The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) is urging the EU to maintain its EBA trade preferences

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) is urging the EU to maintain its EBA trade preferences

The group that represents garment manufacturers in Cambodia is calling on the European Union (EU) to maintain the country's preferential access to the EU market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme, noting a suspension will result in "significant" job losses in the country's garment and footwear industries.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) claims the livelihood of some 750,000 workers and the welfare of 3m Cambodians is "at stake".

In February, the European Commission started the process that could lead to a temporary suspension of Cambodia's preferential tariff arrangements under the EBA trade scheme. EBA preferences can be removed if beneficiary countries fail to respect core human rights and labour rights – and the EU has for some time been concerned about human rights violations in Cambodia.

The move kicked off a process that aims to bring Cambodia in line with its obligations under the core UN and ILO Conventions, including a six-month period of intensive monitoring and engagement with the Cambodian authorities, followed by another three-month period for the EU to produce a report based on the findings.

After a total of 12 months, the Commission will conclude the procedure with a final decision on whether or not to withdraw tariff preferences; it is also at this stage that the Commission will decide the scope and duration of the withdrawal. Any withdrawal would come into effect after a further six-month period.

Cambodia has benefited from the EBA programme since 2001, with primary beneficiaries, according to GMAC, the "working men and women" in the country's garment, footwear and travel goods industries. These industries account for some 75% of Cambodia's total merchandise exports and 90% of the country's exports to the EU.

GMAC says EUR4.77bn in trade in 2018 marked a ten-fold increase since the EBA was first extended to Cambodia, adding the EU has become the largest market for its industries, outpacing the United States which does not provide duty benefits on garments and footwear.

"Thanks to the EU's support via the EBA, millions of Cambodians have been lifted from poverty and have contributed significantly to the nation's economic and social development. Our industries' 750,000 workers represent more than half of the country's total formal labour force and they provide direct income support to more than 20% of all households in Cambodia. All told, the EBA has a positive effect on the lives of some three million people in Cambodia."

The group adds it has submitted supporting evidence in response to the EU's concerns and to demonstrate the progress and compliance record of its sector with respect to national laws and ILO standards.

"GMAC again wishes to stress to EU legislators, officials and all interested stakeholders that a suspension of EBA benefits for our sector will result in significant job losses in the garment, footwear and travel goods industries and would not serve the EBA programme objective of poverty eradication and sustainable development," GMAC adds. "It would prove to be a sad and regrettable outcome for GMAC and its workforce which have done so much to cooperate with the ILO and in effect to promote its role in monitoring workers' rights in Cambodia, as well as in other nations.

The group represents more than 580 garment, footwear and travel good production facilities in Cambodia that directly employ 750,000 workers. 

The European Commission told just-style it had "no comment in this respect" but added that over the next six months, following an initial monitoring period that came to an end on 12 August, it and the EEAS would analyse all the evidence collected which would inform the final decision on whether to or not to withdraw the benefit. The Commission will formally conclude the procedure by February 2020.

Last month, GMAC warned that a recent increase in "illegal" strikes is hurting the sector and could lead to a loss of confidence from buyers, at a time when the country risks losing its EBA trade benefits.