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GMAC is confident the EU won’t suspend EBA scheme

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Garment workers sit at work stations at a factory in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district. The deputy secretary-general of GMAC doubts the EU will suspend its EBA scheme. Pha Lina

GMAC is confident the EU won’t suspend EBA scheme

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has expressed confidence that the probability of the European Union (EU) suspending the Kingdom’s access to its Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme is “very low”.

GMAC deputy secretary-general Kiang Monika said his belief is based on the fact that any negative action by the EU to suspend the EBA would have severe repercussions impacting the livelihood of ordinary people.

“Cambodia has made excellent progress in terms of its economic development and labour rights. The situation today is different from what it was a few years ago, so I am confident the EBA scheme will not be suspended,” he said.

He was commenting on a week-long fact-finding mission by a delegation of the European Commission (EC) and the European External Action Service (EEAS).

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said last week that the EU was evaluating the information it had collected during its mission.

Through a press release issued last Thursday, Malmström said the mission focused its discussions on an alleged decline in political and electoral rights, as well as a curbing of civil society activities.

“There are many loopholes once talking about the land dispute solution, serious threat on the freedom of assembly and reclaiming collective rights,” Malmström said.

“In the principle of EU Trade, social justice is the priority, including the respect of human rights and significant standards of freedom and work.”

While she didn’t say when the EU would make a decision, she confirmed that removing Cambodia from the trading scheme would be a very last resort.

Monika said Cambodia had achieved real development in terms of its economy, and social, democratic, labour and human rights.

“If the situation in Cambodia is evaluated in all fairness, I believe there will be no sanctions imposed. In fact, the probability of any sanction is very low, considering that the EU will have to justify its evaluation and consider the truth about Cambodia,” Monika said.

“No one can deny the achievements and progress made in the Kingdom, especially regarding development and economic improvement. Also, democracy is progressing, even though not at the speed the EU wants to see. Still, there has been vast progress,” he said.

Regarding labour rights, he said this too had made good progress. For instance, salary scales had increased a lot and social security had been properly implemented.

“Next year, we will implement social security for veterans, which makes the Cambodian scheme complete and compliant to international standards.”

Ministry of Economy spokesman Meas Sokdesan said there was no reason for the EBA to be suspended “unless there was a hidden agenda”.

“We have improved a lot in terms of labour rights. We have solved those issues and we have already replied to the EU. We showed the EU the serious efforts the government has made according to the existing mechanism and the laws,” he said.

“We don’t know what else we have to do to make the EU accept the fact that vast improvements have been made in all areas of concern."

“The most important thing is that the EU should not have a hidden agenda. The problems raised in our discussions happened long ago, not recently, and we have solved most, if not all of them.”

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