Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn met with Josep Borrell Fontelles, the High Representative of the EU, and the Vice-President of the European Commission on Sunday to talk about the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.
The EU Commission has less than two months to make a final decision on Cambodia’s duty-free access to the EU markets under the scheme.
The bilateral meeting came on the sidelines of the 14th Asia and Europe Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (Asem) in Madrid that was held on December 15 and 16.
In a post on its Facebook page, the ministry said Sokhonn met with Fontelles on Sunday afternoon. However, it did not detail what was discussed.
Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said he did not have details of the meeting. But Borrell tweeted in French saying: “We talked about the possibility of a withdrawal of trade preferences. Efforts are still needed to improve the situation of human rights and democracy.”
The European External Action Service issued a press release on Sunday saying Fontelles had expressed gratitude to Cambodia for agreeing to host the Asem Summit next year.
“The High Representative reiterated the importance of Cambodian authorities taking immediate action to open the political space in the country, establish the necessary conditions for a credible, democratic opposition and initiate a process of national reconciliation through genuine and inclusive dialogue,” the press release said.
The EU Commission will decide whether or not to fully or partly suspend the EBA scheme for Cambodia after it launched the withdrawal procedure in February.
It claimed there had been severe human rights violation, a backsliding of democracy and that Cambodia hadn’t fully complied with international conventions governing the EBA scheme.
Kin Phea, the director of the International Relations Institute at Royal Academy of Cambodia, said with regard to Borrell’s message, the EU seemed to be still considering giving the Kingdom the opportunity to retain the EBA.
“His words, ‘efforts are still needed …’ seemed to imply the EU’s willingness to maintain the EBA scheme for Cambodia. The EU just wants to see improvements in human rights and democracy in the Kingdom.
“It looks like the door is still open and there is still an opportunity to work together to improve human rights and democracy and obtain the EU’s contribution to developing Cambodia.
“If the EU withdraws the EBA scheme, it will have no influence to talk with the government on human rights, democracy, or other matters on their agenda.
“So, it must keep a path for the government to walk on while the government thinks of how to deal with this matter so that both sides do not lose face,” he said.
Phea said the EBA situation would improve if both parties shared about the real situation in the Kingdom.