PHNOM PENH – The European Union’s decision to suspend a part of the trade preferences over systematic violations of human rights by Cambodia is “unjust,” the government in Phnom Penh has said.
On Wednesday, the European Commission announced the restriction on selected footwear and garment products, including all travel goods and sugar. Such products were getting tariff preferences granted under the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) trade scheme.
The suspension, which will come into effect on Aug.12, 2020, unless the European Parliament blocks it, will affect about one-fifth of the Cambodian exports to the EU, the country’s biggest market destination. This is equivalent to $1 billion per year.
The Cambodian government denounced the “application of a double standard when it comes to the EU’s preferential practices with other trading nations.”
“The application of the concept ‘serious and systematic violation’ triggered by many misunderstandings about the actual realities in Cambodia has been applied arbitrarily,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said in a statement released late Wednesday.
“The decision is politically driven and is devoid of objectivity and impartiality,” the statement said.
Brussels began the process of withdrawing Cambodia from the EBA, which allows duty-free exports to the bloc from the world’s least-developed countries, a year ago.
The measure was put in place after July 2018 elections following a campaign against the opposition, media, and activists, by Prime Minister Hun Sen who assumed the post in 1985.
Human Rights Watch blamed Hun Sen for the decision and urged the leader to take measures on improving the “dismal human rights and labor rights situation,” including the end of the ban over the major opposition party of Cambodia.
“Hun Sen can get these preferences restored and show he cares about Cambodian workers by ending his assault on labor rights, the political opposition, and fundamental freedoms,” HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said in a statement on Thursday.
Adams said the prime minister had, however, “publicly and defiantly refused to take steps to address the EU’s concerns, even launching a sham treason trial against the leader of the opposition in the final stages of the EU’s deliberations, leaving the EU with no choice but to take this action.”