Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Gov’t responds to EU’s report on possible trade sanctions

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn. Stringer

The Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Thursday that Cambodia had responded to the European Union’s preliminary report on suspending trade preferences, giving “comprehensive” explanations about what it had done to improve political participation, land rights, freedom of expression and freedom of association.

The EU is mulling suspending the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) trade preferences with Cambodia over human rights and political concerns — including the dissolution of the country’s political opposition in 2017 — and is due to give a final decision in February.

The commission gave the Cambodian government one month to respond after submitting its report last month. It demanded “real and credible” improvement in human rights and political issues if Cambodia wants to retain the deal.

The ministry said on Thursday that it had handed over its response to the commission.

“The Final Response is a comprehensive report on the actions and measures undertaken by the Royal Government to respond to all the areas of concerns of the European Commission, in particular with respect to the right to political participation, land rights, freedom of expression and freedom of association,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry also urged the EU to consider the potential impact on workers that removing the EBA would have.

“While the final decision will be made by the European Commission by February 2020, the Royal Government expects that the European Commission will take into consideration the government’s good faith efforts to implement all the relevant international conventions under the EBA regulations, the potential social impact of nearly one million female workers and the indirect effect on families and relatives supported by these workers’ wages, as well as respecting the principles of sovereignty and non-interference into Cambodia’s internal affairs,” the ministry said.

The EU noted the ongoing case against Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha as one of its major concerns.

Sokha’s trial will be held on Jan. 15, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced this week.

U.S. Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo said in a news briefing about international sanctions on Wednesday that Washington will be watching Sokha’s trials.

“We don’t just talk about them, we take action in support of them, we defend them around the world because its our duty to do so till we are. We are for instance watching the trial in Cambodia of opposition leader Kem Sokha,” Pompeo said.

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.