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Substantive progress made towards duty-free garment bill in US

Substantive progress made towards duty-free garment bill in US

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to your article “Delegation fails in US duty-free access bid”, by May Kunmakara (November 24).
Firstly, I wish to point out that I did not say that the Cambodian delegation had returned “empty-handed”. I was explicitly asked by the reporter if “the delegation to Washington had managed to obtain duty-free access for garments made in Cambodia”, to which I had replied that no agreement had been reached. I further explained myself by saying that it is not simple to get any bill passed, and, like the passage of any law in Cambodia, this process takes time. Coupled with the vast opposition that we face from the African countries, it would take much more than a one-week visit to achieve this. It would be naive for your reporter to assume that a bill could be passed immediately during the short stay of the delegation.

The delegation, led by Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh, was in Washington to attend an event organised by the IFC and ILO in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the signing of the groundbreaking bilateral trade agreement between Cambodia and the US and was not “dispatched to Washington to obtain duty-free status for garment exports to the United States”.

Cham Prasidh had taken time out of his busy schedule to attend a hearing in front of the US house of representatives and had presented an excellent case for Cambodia, urging US lawmakers to give serious consideration to provide Cambodia with preferential trade access. The bill introduced by Congressman Jim McDermott was a direct result of this presentation given by Cham Prasidh, and I would see this as a great success for this trip.

As you are aware, GMAC has been lobbying for the passage of a bill in the US that would grant duty-free access for garments made in Cambodia. We have had bills introduced in the 109th and 110th congresses under Senator Dianne Feinstein as well as under Congressman Jim McDermott, but were unsuccessful in getting those bills passed.

We are glad that Congressman Jim Mcdermott continues to believe in the importance of such legislature and has reintroduced this new bill to help Cambodia.

I would also like to point out that in our past experiences, we have never been able to get a bill introduced during the short course of our visit, but Cham Prasidh has achieved it this time round. This is a concrete achievement of the trip, and the delegation did not return “empty-handed”.

The article also states that “the legislation calls for least-developed countries to be able to export to the US 50 percent of their total 2007 exports without duty”. This statement is again wrong, as the bill allows for duty-free, quota-free access for all garments made in Cambodia. However, for 20 categories of garments that are specified, there would be a cap to the amount that can enjoy duty-free status, and this cap is set at half of what we exported in 2007. For all other categories, no limits are set. In essence, almost two-thirds of our current exports would enjoy duty-free status, while the remaining third would be subjected to the import duty that we are currently paying.

Once again, I would like to state that the mere introduction of the bill during the short stay of Cham Prasidh in Washington is a great achievement in itself, and GMAC would like to urge all stakeholders in the Cambodian garment industry to work together and ensure the passage of this bill. As it is, we face enough opposition and objections from external parties, and we in Cambodia should not make it harder for ourselves by sabotaging all the efforts that have been made in trying to secure this legislature.

Ken Loo
secretary general, GMAC

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