Garments account for some 75% of Cambodias exports to the EU

Garments account for some 75% of Cambodia's exports to the EU

The European Union (EU) is assessing Cambodia's eligibility for key preferential trade access in response to what it describes as "recent worrying human rights and labour rights developments" in the country.

The move follows a fact-finding mission to Cambodia earlier this month "to evaluate the situation on the ground" by a delegation of the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS).

"We will now analyse the facts in detail, and consider further steps," says Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. "Removing Cambodia from the trade scheme is a measure of last resort, if all our other efforts have failed to address these concerns."

At stake is Cambodia's access to the Everything But Arms (EBA) preferential trade programme, which allows exporters in least developed countries to ship products duty-free to the EU.

Cambodia is the second biggest EBA beneficiary and 95.5% of its EBA-eligible exports were made under EBA preferences. In turn, garments account for some 75% of Cambodia's exports to the EU.

These trade preferences can be temporarily withdrawn in case of serious and systematic violations laid down in a list of fundamental human rights and labour right conventions in accordance with the provisions of the EU GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) regulation.

The EU first raised its concerns at the end of last year following crackdowns by Prime Minister Hun Sen in the run-up to the general election on 29 July.

"The recent worrying developments in the country have called for a closer assessment of whether Cambodia is fulfilling its commitments," Malmström adds.

"The discussions and information gathering during our EU mission have focused on the serious decline in the area of political and electoral rights, as well as a curbing of civil society activities. There are also deficiencies when it comes to land dispute resolution mechanisms, and serious threats to freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.

"In the trade policy of the European Union, social justice is a vital aspect, including the respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and labour standards. Following the fact-finding mission, we will now analyse the facts in detail, and consider further steps."

The EU delegation met with several members of the Cambodian government, as well as trade unions, civil society, businesses, and the United Nations (UN) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) representatives in the country.

At the beginning of July, Cambodia's Foreign Ministry dispatched a diplomatic team to the European Union to "provide clarification about the truth in Cambodia."