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EU threatens to suspend trade preferences for Cambodia over worsening human rights record

Monday, 11 February, 2019 - 18:09

The European Commission announced today that it has opened a case against Cambodia that could lead to trade sanctions because of “serious violations” of “human rights” in the country, where the opposition is repressed. These violations concern in particular the “rights of participation in political life and freedom of assembly, expression and association”, which “add to the concerns” about “workers’ rights”.

The Commission’s decision was based on a fact-finding mission to Cambodia in July 2018 and ‘subsequent bi-lateral meetings at the highest level’. These engagements led to the conclusion that ‘there is evidence of serious and systematic violations of core human rights and labour rights in Cambodia, in particular of the rights to political participation as well as of the freedoms of assembly, expression and association,’ the Commission said in a statement on Monday.

As a result, Brussels has threatened to temporarily suspend Cambodia’s preferential access to the European market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative, which allows countries to poorer to benefit from an exemption in the EU from taxes and quotas on their products, with the exception of weapons and ammunition.

The temporary withdrawal procedure does not mean an immediate removal of Cambodia’s preferential tariff arrangement with the EU, which the Commission says would only be invoked as an “option of last resort”. Rather it entails “a period of intensive monitoring and engagement” with the aim of !improving the situation for the people on the ground” in Cambodia, the Commission said.

It should be clear that today’s move is neither a final decision nor the end of the process,” EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said.

But the clock is now officially ticking and we need to see real action soon…Our engagement with the situation in Cambodia has led us to conclude that there are severe deficiencies when it comes to human rights and labour rights in Cambodia that the government needs to tackle if it wants to keep its country’s privileged access to our market.” 


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