EU to suspend some of Cambodia trade benefits over human rights

Cambodia’s government is preparing for the European Union to partially and temporarily remove the country’s Everything But Arms (EBA) trade privileges on Wednesday, in the wake of a 2018 political crackdown.

The EU warned Cambodia last February it would withdraw the scheme unless it made more effort to improve the human rights situation. The deadline for a decision is February 12.

Ministry of Economy and Finance spokesman Meas Soksensan told Al Jazeera that although his ministry had not officially been informed of the decision by the EU, the government was preparing for partial suspension.

“Unofficially we heard … that there must be partial suspension of EBA,” he said.

The European Parliament and Council could still object to any decision, but if approved, it will come into effect on August 12. Both bodies have indicated they want the commission to take a tougher approach to Cambodia’s human rights violations.

If the EU does follow through on its warnings and suspend Cambodia’s EBA arrangements, it would mark the first time it has done so. The EBA entitles 47 countries recognised as least developed by the United Nations to export goods other than weapons to the EU, tariff-free. The bloc has previously withdrawn other preferential trade schemes for Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Belarus.

“It’s a very early stage to make a judgement. The final result will be coming soon, so any speculation or expectation will … not be encouraged,” Soksensan said. “But I will say that the trade between Cambodia and EU is around [$]4 billion, so we would expect around [$]1 billion to get tariffs on.”

The EBA was thrust into the limelight after the leader of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, was arrested and accused of treason in September 2017 and his party dissolved two months later. Multiple media outlets were also forced to close, and journalists and activists arrested leaving the governing party to take all the seats in Parliament when elections took place in July 2018.

T-shirts could be target
Ben Vanpeperstraete, Lobby and Advocacy Coordinator of Europe-based Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), told Al Jazeera he was also expecting a partial suspension.

“We do know that the Commission will take the route of partial suspensions,” he said, citing sources with direct knowledge of the draft decision.

This partial suspension, he said, would take the effect of targeting subsectors of the economy, including parts of the garment industry.

While he did not have an exhaustive list of subsectors that would be targeted, he said he was told T-shirts would be included in the new tariff-scheme.

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