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Sugar on EU visit’s agenda

Labourers harvest sugarcane at a plantation in an economic land concession owned by Phnom Penh Sugar Company in Kampong Speu’s Thpong district earlier this month.
Labourers harvest sugarcane at a plantation in an economic land concession owned by Phnom Penh Sugar Company in Kampong Speu’s Thpong district earlier this month. Daniel Quinlan

Sugar on EU visit’s agenda

European Union Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht will visit Cambodia this week, the European Commission announced, with rights groups hoping that land grabbing related to sugar plantations will be high on the agenda.

Following bilateral meetings in Brussels last week between Cambodia and the EU during which human rights, trade and political issues in the Kingdom were raised, European officials will also arrive later this month to discuss development aid commitments until 2020, a Foreign Ministry official said yesterday.

In a four-day visit to Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, De Gucht will aim to “bolster the EU’s trade links with ASEAN countries”, the EU said.

According to the Commerce Ministry, De Gucht will meet with Minister of Commerce Sun Chanthol on Tuesday.

Cambodia exported more than $3.3 billion worth of goods to the bloc last year under a preferential trade scheme, Everything But Arms (EBA), which gives the Kingdom duty-free access to European markets.

While sugar only made up 1.6 per cent of those exports, firms taking advantage of the trade scheme by growing sugar cane in Cambodia have been linked to rampant land grabbing and forced evictions.

Although a high-level government working group that includes the local EU

Ambassador has been discussing a comprehensive solution to outstanding disputes between sugar firms and villagers, rights groups are calling on De Gucht to push for immediate action.

“The EU has to put a clear condition, basically to demand that the Cambodian government respects EBA policy and addresses the pending issues,” Eang Vuthy, executive director at Equitable Cambodia, said.

“There needs to be a clear timeline and a clear blueprint … and we want the EU to closely monitor this.”

Returning from Brussels yesterday, Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Foreign Ministry, told reporters that he had made it clear in meetings of the Cambodia-EU Joint Committee that the government supports human rights, despite what the opposition might say.

“I clearly stressed to the EU that the government is determined to protect and promote human rights and democracy.”

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