Expectations began to grow in 1994 when Cambodia and the United States signed a bilateral
trade agreement that allowed Cambodia to be considered for Most Favored Nation (MFN)
status. At that time no one thought it would take two years for the trade privilege
to be granted.
In late 1994 and early 1995, however, several Congressmen and human rights organizations
voiced concerns of human rights abuses. In particular, these groups argued that by
removing Sam Rainsy from his position as finance minister, Cambodia was backsliding
Opposed by the US State Department, they sought to attach conditions to MFN. Conditions
could have required that MFN be renewed every six months upon determining that Cambodia
met certain criteria.
In August 1995, the US House of Representatives finally passed MFN without conditions.
Shortly thereafter, former Foreign Minister Prince Norodom Sirivudh was charged with
treason and expelled from the country. The debate on Cambodia's progress towards
democracy was reopened.
In March 1996, it passed a non-binding resolution urging the "Secretary of State
to make human rights among the primary objectives in its bilateral relations."
Among specific concerns, the resolution cited the expulsion of former Finance Minister
Rainsy from the National Assembly, the arrest and exile of former Foreign Minister
Prince Sirivudh, mob attacks against opposition newspapers, and a grenade attack
against opposition party Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP)
On May 8, 1996 the Senate Finance Committee passed MFN without conditions paving
the way for consideration by the full Senate. Ten days later, the publisher of Khmer
Ideal newspaper and a steering-committee member of the Khmer Nation Party (KNP) Thun
Bun Ly was killed. US Senator Roth said that the slaying would prompt Senators to
intensify debate about unconditional MFN for Cambodia.
Proponents of unconditional MFN for Cambodia won the day, however, and rather than
attaching conditions, the Senate also chose to issue a non-binding resolution on
human rights concerns.
The MFN legislation then became caught up in trade legislation in which Senator Bob
Graham (R-FL) sought protection of Florida-grown tomatoes against Mexican tomatoes.
In May-June, a lobbying group comprised of businessmen and government officials made
a 45-day trip to Washington to lobby the Clinton Administration and the US Congress.
The full Senate passed MFN without conditions on July 25. That was followed by negotiations
between the House and Senate on a compromise version of the legislation.
At long last, President Bill Clinton signed the bill on Sept 25.