French Senator Francois Grosdidier, who was in Cambodia the past week conducting meetings with government officials, vowed on Saturday to lobby EU member states not to withdraw Cambodia’s Everything But Arms (EBA) preferential trade status.
Grosdidier, a representative of the centre-right French political party The Republicans in the French Senate, reportedly made his statement during a meeting with Minister of National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspection Men Sam An.
According to ministry spokesman Nop Chanarin, Grosdidier expressed scepticism regarding accusations levelled at the Cambodian government of declining human rights and democracy in the Kingdom.
“[Grosdidier] said the allegations [of rights violations] were put in place by the US to pressure Cambodia in order to get the EBA status revoked,” Chanarin said.
He said Grosdidier even went as far as to say that human rights and democracy in Cambodia were better respected than in some European countries, claiming the senator praised the health of Cambodian democracy.
“In Cambodia, I noticed there are multiple political parties that competed in elections, particularly the 2018 national elections."
“The country had 20 political parties participating and the voter turnout was more than 83 per cent,” Chanarin quoted Grosdidier as saying.
Grosdidier is said to have vowed to return to Europe and hold meetings with EU member states to dissuade them from removing Cambodia’s EBA status.
“EU members must all consider easing political tensions,” the French senator was reported as saying.
Cambodia’s EBA status has loomed over the country in recent months, with the Kingdom gearing up to be struck by the withdrawal of its preferential trade status by the EU over what critics regard as a steep decline in democracy and human rights in recent years.
If Cambodia’s EBA status is withdrawn, it will be hit with tariffs on its exports into the EU economic bloc.
The EU is currently Cambodia’s second largest trading partner with a total trade value of €5.86 billion ($6.7 billion), €5 billion of which were Cambodian exports to the EU.
Proponents of the economic measures believe the financial blow to the Cambodian government could be enough to force political and social reforms, including the reinstatement of the Supreme Court-banned opposition group the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Critics of the punitive economic measures say that it will only harm the poorest Cambodians, who will lose jobs and income as the cost of exporting goods rises for producers and factory owners.
EU member states had their final opportunity to provide their views on the withdrawal of Cambodia’s status to the EU Commission for Trade on January 29.
In October last year, EU officials said the withdrawal process, if approved, will take at least 18 months to be fully implemented.