Cambodia’s Top Rights Body Wants Tariff-Free EU Trade, But Won’t Budge on Political Reforms

Sandra Loyd

Cambodia’s top human rights body stated Wednesday that the nation does not wish to lose preferential trade status in the European Union but is not able to adhere to the bloc’s requirements on rights reforms to keep those benefits, mentioning its status as a sovereign country.

The EU in mid-February revealed strategies to suspend tariff-free access to its market under the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) plan for around one-fifth of Cambodia’s exports, mentioning rollbacks on human rights– a decision that would renew taxes on garments and shoes start Aug. 12, unless it is reversed by the bloc’s federal governments or its parliament.

The suspension, which Prime Minister Hun Sen has actually shaken off and called an attack on Cambodia’s sovereignty, will result in a loss of around U.S. $1.1 billion of the nation’s yearly U.S. $5.8 billion in exports to the bloc, some 75 percent of which are comprised of clothes and fabrics.

On Wednesday, Cambodian Human Rights Committee Deputy President and Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chhin Malin informed RFA’s Khmer Service that Cambodia does not wish to lose EBA status which the federal government is “negotiating” with the bloc to ensure it keeps full EBA status.

Nevertheless, he stated that Cambodia can not completely adhere to EU’s requirements, specifically those associated to political concerns and human rights.

“Cambodia will continue to cooperate with the EU Commission to resolve the EBA issue,” he stated.

“Cambodia will continue to maintain its position of implementing the law and maintain its sovereignty and will not exchange them for aid.”

Chhin Malin stated that “different people have different assessments” on human rights concerns in Cambodia based on their political choices, recommending that his federal government would not acquiesce needs over how the nation need to be run.

He did not supply any information on settlements or how Cambodia may anticipate to sway the EU on its decision to withdraw EBA status without setting up reforms.

While the coronavirus break out has actually tossed production for Cambodia’s crucial garment market into chaos, employees and factories have actually withstood a considerable financial hit amidst a decline in orders from purchasers in the EU expecting a go back to tariffs on some Cambodian imports when trade status is withdrawn.

Federal government to blame

Ath Thon, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, informed RFA that if the federal government of Cambodia had favorably reacted the EU Commission’s suggestions throughout an earlier evaluation duration, they would not remain in danger of losing trade choices on 20 percent of its exports.

He acknowledged that Cambodia had actually enhanced some concerns– such as the rights of employees, the native population, and land ownership– but important requirements, consisting of the status of political rights, stay the same.

“As a union, we want the government to resolve all of the issues recommended by the EU,” he stated.

Amongst the reforms the EU has actually required is the reinstatement of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which the Supreme Court prohibited in November 2017 for its role in a supposed plot to fall the federal government.

The transfer to prohibit the CNRP became part of a broader crackdown by Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that led the way for his judgment Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the nation’s July 2018 basic election.

Am Sam Ath of the Cambodia-based human rights group Licadho informed RFA that there had actually been little improvement of human rights or political rights considering that the EU revealed its decision in February.

He revealed issue that if the circumstance in Cambodia continues to degrade, the nation will lose EBA status on all of its exports to the EU.

” The EU has [announced plans to] partly withdraw the EBA since of the CNRP dissolution and persecution,” he stated.

“Currently, we have observed that arrests have resumed. I am concerned that the EU will remove full EBA status if the government does not restore democracy and respect for human rights.”

Given that the start of the year, almost 20 CNRP opposition authorities or activists have actually been detained and included jail– most without arrest warrants.

Throughout the very same duration, 17 former and active CNRP authorities and fans have actually been the victims of attack by unknown men, and cops have yet to make any arrests in the events.

Require post ponement

Chhin Malin’s remarks followed the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) released an open letter to the EU Commission and other European stakeholders recently requiring a 1 year post ponement to the EBA withdrawal, mentioning the financial effect of the coronavirus pandemic that has actually contaminated 126 people in Cambodia considering that March, according to official data.

GMAC stated that some 250 business making shoes, travel, and clothing products have actually been required to suspend operations since of the break out, while others are operating at minimized capability, resulting in layoffs for around 130,000 employees– the majority of whom are women.

While there was a considerable drop off in orders in the first quarter of 2020, the maker’s association stated that it anticipates a decline in sales for the 3 markets to fall by 50 to 60 percent, year over year, in the second quarter, putting “hundreds of thousands” at danger of task loss and “millions” under the hazard of a go back to hardship.

In addition, it cautioned, a return of tariffs would motivate purchasers to turn their business to other manufacturers in the area that still gain from the EBA plan, while weakening enhancements in labor rights and working conditions Cambodia has actually accomplished in collaboration with stakeholders such as the International Labour Organization.

China trade offer

Cambodia might discover some remedy for any concern that features withdrawal of EBA status if it inks a complimentary trade contract with China, which the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh stated in a Tuesday declaration posted on its Facebook page had actually reached a 3rd round of settlements.

“The trade deal agreement to be signed between Cambodia and China will be implemented according to a consensus of the two countries’ leaders and will promote the joint destiny of Phnom Penh and Beijing,” the declaration stated, without supplying additional information.

No date has actually been set for the completion and finalizing of the contract, which is anticipated to come “later this year.”

Cambodia’s Ministry of Commerce likewise released a declaration Tuesday detailing a teleconference in between Minister Pan Sorasak and Yang Zhengwei, deputy director-general of the Department of International Trade and Economic Affairs under China’s commerce ministry.

“Negotiations focused on opening markets for products, services, investment, and economic cooperation, while boosting imports from Cambodia and attracting more investment,” the declaration stated, including that the contract is anticipated to enhance trade in between the 2 countries well beyond the average growth rate of 20 percent over the past 3 years.

Commerce ministry spokesperson Seang Thai verified that no schedule has actually been set to sign the offer, including that the 2 sides are “negotiating to reduce taxes for certain products.”

News of the settlements came on the very same day that Cambodia’s Ministry of Farming revealed it had actually signed an arrangement with China to export mangoes, which Hun Sen stated in a declaration posted to his Facebook account is “a good sign for farmers and investors concerned over reduced demand and low prices.”

Agricultural professional Yang Saing Koma informed RFA that Cambodia’s federal government need to watch out for signing any handle China, especially ones that he cautioned might adversely affect medium and little Cambodian business and the farming sector.

“I welcome free trade, but we must be prudent,” he stated, suggesting that Cambodia ensure any such offer be “balanced.”

“We must also maintain local capacity to compete in the free market.”

Trade in between Cambodia and China has actually gradually increased from U.S. $5.16 billion in 2016 to simply over U.S. $6 billion in 2017 and U.S. $7.4 billion in 2018, according to federal government figures. The 2 countries objective to reach U.S. $10 billion in bilateral trade every year by 2023.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Equated by Samean Yun. Composed in English by Joshua Lipes.

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