Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Government pledges to ‘remain firm’ after EBA decision

Garment workers work in their factory. Panha Chhorpoan

The government this week reiterated that the EU was interfering in domestic affairs after the bloc announced a partial suspension of duty-free trade with Cambodia over political and human rights concerns.

In a statement issued late Wednesday, the Foreign Affairs Ministry criticized the EU’s decision as politically driven, even as it defended its dissolution of the country’s main opposition party as merely following judicial processes.

“The government remains firm in its principled position in rejecting any attempt by external parties in their use of trade and development assistance as pretexts to justify their interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs,” it said.

Following a yearlong review, the EU on Wednesday said it would reinstate standard tariffs on selected garment and footwear products and all travel goods and sugar, amounting to about $1.1 billion in trade. It had found serious and systematic violations of human rights in Cambodia, leaving it “no other choice” than to partially withdraw the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) scheme, it said.

Cambodia’s main opposition party, the CNRP, was dissolved by Supreme Court order at the request of the government in November 2017, eight months before a national election. The ruling CPP swept all 125 National Assembly seats in the subsequent election.

The EU was Cambodia’s largest export market in 2018, mostly for garments and footwear.

Cambodian Labor Confederation president Ath Thorn said he expected Cambodian exporters would end up paying about $100 million a year to cover the reinstated tariffs.

Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina said he hoped negotiations could continue over the six months ahead of the decision coming into force.

“We don’t want our workers become hostages in a political issue,” Sina said.

In a statement, H&M said it supported the EU’s aim of addressing rights violations in Cambodia.

“We are, together with local and international stakeholders, as well as other brands, continuously working to develop a sustainable textile industry,” H&M said. “[W]e will now further evaluate how the EU’s decision will impact our business and production strategy in Cambodia.”