EU officials have confirmed that it will take a total of 18 months to complete the procedure if Cambodia’s preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) trade agreement is to be withdrawn.
According to EU Agriculture and Rural Development spokesman Daniel Rosario, the formal process has not yet begun despite EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom announcing the launching of the procedure on October 5.
Rosario told The Post on Tuesday that a formal date to begin the process had yet to be set as the EU prepares an official document outlining the decision.
Malmstrom’s statement, he said, merely announced the EU Commission’s stance and did not kick off the procedure.
In correspondence with The Post, EU officials stressed that dialogue will remain open and cooperation with Cambodia sought during an initial 12-month process leading up to any possible suspension of the Kingdom from the EBA agreement or to cease the temporary suspension process.
The deal is considered crucial to the Kingdom’s economy as it is worth $676 million annually to Cambodia in terms of tax and duty free exports to the EU.
Rosario said: “The temporary withdrawal procedure is launched with the publication of the EU Commission’s decision [legal act] and is followed by a six-month official monitoring period.
“During this period, the Commission shall provide the country with every opportunity to cooperate, and shall gather all necessary information. This is continued by another period to produce a report on the findings and to conclude the procedure with another Commission decision on whether or not to withdraw the tariff preferences.”
During this period, the Royal Government of Cambodia would also be given up to one month to contest the report on the findings.
European Union ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia George Edgar added that if finally, at the end of the initial 12-month process, the decision was made to suspend Cambodia, another six-month grace period would be given, bringing the total timeframe to possibly withdraw the EBA scheme to 18 months.
Edgar said: “That means that a formal decision to withdraw EBA preferences, in whole or in part, would come only at the end of the 12-month process described above."
“If the decision is taken to suspend some or all of Cambodia’s preferences, a further six-month grace period is provided before tariffs come into operation on the goods concerned.”
The EU officials said a decision to suspend Cambodia from the EBA would be based on primary sources of information.
This is notably a body of reports and recommendations from the UN and International Labour Organisation, including Special Procedures, Universal Periodic Reviews, reporting and expert advice. It will also include a complaints procedure.
Other sources to be considered would be civil society reports, authoritative international bodies, academia or information transmitted directly by the beneficiary country to the Commission.
“In case the Commission decides not to withdraw the preferences, the final decision takes the form of an implementing act, on which member states are consulted in accordance with [Commission procedure],” Rosario said.
Viktor Almqvist, the European Parliament’s press officer, outlined that such an outcome would not be necessary if the beneficiary country improved the conditions required to remain in the agreement during the decision-making process.
“After that, if no improvements are made, the Commission can make a final decision to partially or entirely withdraw trade preferences by adopting a so-called delegated act."
“This act will enter into force unless either [the EU] Parliament or the Council objects to it, but it does not need formal approvals by the two institutions,” he said.
According to procedure in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, a decision by the EU Commission is made by a simple majority of its members.
The decision of the EU Commission will enter into force only if there is no objection from the EU Parliament or the EU Council which currently consists of 28 member states.
The EU Parliament shall act by a simple majority of its component members. The EU Council would need the approval of 55 per cent of its member States, or 65 per cent of the population of the member States, to agree.
This again offers Cambodia an opportunity to lobby either one or both bodies to object to withdrawing the preferential trade scheme by arguing that the premise for such a decision was wrongly made, and to show examples of how improvements had been made in the country.