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‘Laundering more pressing than EBA’

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Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng presides over a swearing in ceremony for provincial councillors in Battambong province on June 17, 2019. Facebook

‘Laundering more pressing than EBA’

Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said the loss of the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) trade preferences would affect Cambodia to some extent, but it would also give the Kingdom the opportunity to strengthen itself. He said the Kingdom should instead address money laundering.

“EBA, if it is withdrawn it would somewhat affect [us], but on the other hand, taking the opportunity to strengthen ourselves is the way to go. We must strive to build our country because they would withdraw it at some point anyway.

“It’s just that earlier withdrawal implies a year of losses, that’s all. However when our country’s economy improves, they’d withdraw it anyway,” he said while presiding over the swearing-in ceremony of provincial councillors at Battambang Provincial Hall on Monday.

Sar Kheng said this did not mean that the Kingdom would not regret [the withdrawal]. “We do regret it. We previously issued a statement comprising of five topics – including democratic space.

“I’m the one who prepared the [statement] which covered political parties, NGOs, trade unions, press and land conflicts. We have solved plenty of these issues,” he said.

Sar Kheng said a more pressing issue is money laundering which he said would be “a very huge devastation” for Cambodia. If the Kingdom was put on the money laundering blacklist, he said, it would affect its state and private banking system and that “no one would have faith in them”.

“Don’t underestimate the problem. We cannot merely say that ‘those who benefit from [money laundering] will just keep on doing it in secret’. They can’t bring it [dirt money] through the airports on account of the strict control there. They bring it in through land borders or other means,” he said.

The EU Commission launched the official EBA withdrawal procedure in February which may potentially lead to withdrawal in part or in whole. A delegation finished their fact-finding mission to Cambodia last week as a monitoring process. Their results are due to be released in mid-August.

Social analyst Meas Nee said Sar Kheng’s statement was not wrong. He said Cambodia should strengthen itself before it suffers any losses due to EBA.

“I think here in Cambodia we have a habit – when someone helps us, we are no longer prepared to help ourselves.

“An example we can see is the Kantha Bopha hospital founded by Dr Beat Richner 30 years ago.

However, Cambodia has not extended the same services to other provinces.

“This presents people with the challenge of taking their children to hospital in Siem Reap province and Phnom Penh. Every morning they have people queuing since 3-4am,” he said.

Nee said this experience is similar to the EBA which came into force in 2000. “It’s been almost 20 years. But we seem to have not strengthened ourselves along the way to go beyond the EU’s [trade preferences].

“It’s like a saying ‘We have delicious food – we just sleep and eat’ and when a problem comes, we are shocked. What Sar Kheng said was correct – it’s something that Cambodians must anticipate,” he stressed.

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