Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

EU submits preliminary report on suspending trade preferences; gov’t has one month to respond

The garment workers working inside the factory. Stringer

The European Commission said on Tuesday that it had finalized a preliminary report on suspending the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) trade preferences with Cambodia over human rights and political concerns.

“We have completed our report on the temporary suspension of trade preferences to Cambodia,” the European Union’s (EU) trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said on Twitter on Tuesday.

“We are very concerned about the human rights situation there. The Cambodians now have one month to respond, and we will make our final decision in Feb next year,” Malmstrom wrote.

In a different statement, the European Commission — the EU’s executive branch — said it had submitted the report to Cambodian authorities. The report has not been released publicly.

“The European Commission sent today to the authorities of Cambodia a preliminary report outlining the findings of the investigation triggered in February 2019 under the procedure for a possible temporary withdrawal of Everything But Arms (EBA) trade preferences,” the statement said.

“The aim of the procedure is to address human rights and labour rights concerns in Cambodia,” it said. “While the European Union remains committed to working with the Cambodian authorities on this aim, real and credible improvement on the issues of concern is needed in order to avoid the withdrawal of EBA preferences.”

Koy Kuong, a spokesman at Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry, said the government had received the report but that he had no comment on it at this time. Government spokesman Phay Siphan did not respond to a request for comment.

Ahead of the EBA report’s submission, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Sunday relaxed its supervisory restrictions against Kem Sokha, leader of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The order effectively released him from house arrest more than two years after he was arrested for treason.

His case is among a series of government actions taken against the political opposition — as well as civil society and independent media — that have drawn international criticism.

Though Sokha is now permitted to travel around Cambodia, the charge against him still stands, and he is not allowed to leave the country. He faces up to 30 years in prison if found guilty of working with the U.S. to overthrow the government.

According to the EU, Cambodia is the second-largest beneficiary of the EBA trade preferences, accounting for over 18 percent of EBA imports into the EU last year.

EU imports from Cambodia totaled €5.3 billion (about $5.8 billion) in 2018, 95 percent of which entered duty-free under the deal, the EU said. It added that clothing and textiles accounted for around three-quarters of the imports.

Sokha met the EU’s Ambassador to Cambodia, Carmen Moreno, on Wednesday at his house in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district, though both declined to comment to reporters after the meeting.

Sokha, whose physical well-being was cited by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court when it released him from de facto house arrest, was asked by a reporter about his health.

“Yes, [it] needs to be checked and treated,” he answered.