A delegation of the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) visited Cambodia from 5 to 11 July 2018 to evaluate the situation on the ground following recent worrying human rights and labour rights developments in the country.
The European Union will now analyse as a matter of priority the information gathered during the mission to consider further steps. This analysis will also take into account further written submissions from the Cambodian authorities, reports of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other bodies responsible for monitoring the implementation by Cambodia of the international conventionsrelevantto the EU duty-free trade scheme Everything But Arms (EBA). The EBA trade scheme allows Cambodia to export all products (except arms and ammunition) into the EU, free of quotas and tariffs.
Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: "The EU is proud to provide the most economically vulnerable countries of the world with free access to our market. The Everything But Arms initiative has had a significant impact on development and poverty eradication in Cambodia. Nevertheless, the recent worrying developments in the country have called for a closer assessment of whether Cambodia is fulfilling its commitments. 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. Removing Cambodia from the trade scheme is a measure of last resort, if all our other efforts have failed to address these concerns."
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.
Under the EBA arrangement of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences the EU unilaterally grants exporters from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) tariff-free and quota-free access to its market for all products (except arms and ammunition) with the aim to contribute to the economic development of these countries and their integration into the global trading system.
The EBA has brought important benefits to the Cambodian economy. The EU is the main export destination, accounting for 40% of Cambodia's overall exports. Cambodian exports to the EU have risen sharply in recent years, increasing by 227% between 2011 and 2016. In 2017, Cambodia's total exports to the EU reached €5 billion, placing it second amongst all EBA beneficiaries. Out of all of Cambodia's EBA-eligible exports, 95.5% were made under EBA preferences.
EBA has contributed in particular to significant job creation and growth in the textile sector, which accounts for 75% of Cambodia's exports to the EU, providing employment for some of the most vulnerable sectors of Cambodian society.
The EU has stepped up its engagement with Cambodia (see the EU biennial GSP report of January 2018) in response to serious concerns about the continuing deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, as flagged also by the European Parliament (Resolution of 14 December 2017) and the Council (the EU Foreign Affairs Ministers' Council of 26 February 2018).
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