Cambodia is facing problems with the European Union after the bloc has initiated a procedure that could lead to the suspension of the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) deal with the Southeast Asian nation of 16 million people.
The launch of a temporary withdrawal procedure does not entail an immediate removal of tariff preferences. The initiation of the procedure means the kick off of a period of intensive monitoring and engagement and would not include, as part of a last-ditch effort, the immediate removal of tariff preferences, according to the EU Commission’s chief spokesperson, Margaritas Schinas.
The Commission made the choice to move towards an emergency contingency plan after the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was outlawed in what was widely seen as a politically motivated effort to secure victory for the ruling party in last year’s general election.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party, led by Hun Sen, took all 125 National Assembly seats, making it a one-party dictatorship.
Launching a temporary withdrawal procedure does not entail an immediate removal of tariff preferences, which would be a last resort option. Instead, it kicks off a period of intensive monitoring and engagement. The aim of the Commission’s action remains focused on improving the human rights situation for people on the ground.
Following a period of enhanced engagement, and after a fact-finding mission that was sent to Cambodia in July 2018 and later followed by bilateral meetings at the highest level, the Commission concluded that violations of core human and labour rights had become systemic in the country. The Commission noted, in particular, that Cambodians were denied their right to assemble of speak freely about political or social matters.
The Commission’s report, which was published on February 12, opened a six-month period of intense monitoring and Brussels’ engagement with Cambodia’s authorities.
This will be followed by another three-month segment where the EU will produce a report based on the findings and later make a final decision on withdrawing its tariff preferences.
At that stage, the Commission will decide the scope and duration of the withdrawal, which would come into effect after a further six-month period.
The Commission’s decision to take a harder line with the Cambodian government comes at a particularly bad time for the regime in Phnom Penh. Cambodia had, in recent years, only just begun to shed its old image as a country still ravaged by war and the brutal Communist rule of Pol Pot and his radical Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.