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Cambodia PM Hun Sen stands firm ahead of EBA report response

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times  December 12, 2019

Garment workers stitch clothes in a factory in Phnom Penh. KT/Mai Vireak

PHNOM PENH< Cambodia – Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday reiterated that the Kingdom will not fold to European Union demands in regards to human rights and democracy in the country, noting that the government cannot interfere in the judicial system to have charges dropped against former opposition leader Kem Sokha.

Mr Hun Sen’s comments during a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh came just one day before the government must respond to a preliminary report by the European Commission in regards to the possible withdrawal of its Everything-but-arms trade status.

“If they want to cut it, let them cut it,” Mr Hun Sen said of the EBA. “It is your right to do so, we have no choice. We cannot follow your concerns. Sorry.”

The EU launched the review of the Kingdom’s EBA status in the wake of Sokha being arrested on treason charges and the subsequent dissolution of the CNRP by the Supreme Court in November 2017.

The EU has since urged the government to have the charges dropped, but Phnom Penh Municipal Court just this week set a trial date of January 15 to hear the case.

“If we cannot see eye to eye, we should explain things to each other because if it [the EU’s demands] is related to the judicial system, we cannot interfere,” he said. “If they do not understand, let it be. But you must know that the consequence of your measure will not only affect the Kingdom, it will also affect your people who will spend more money to buy our goods as we need to pay tax.”

“The court has already announced to hear his [Sokha’s] case,” he added.

The Kingdom will today submit its response to the EC report after it filed it with the government last month and gave the Kingdom one month to reply. The EC will make its final decision on whether the EBA status should be suspended in February.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the Kingdom is ready to submit its response to the EC.

“We will submit the report [today],” Mr Kuong said. “However, I cannot tell you the content because it is secret.”

When asked whether he is confident the Kingdom will retain its EBA status, Mr Kuong said he could not predict the result.

The EBA scheme allows Cambodian goods to enter the EU market 99 percent tariff-free. The loss of the EBA is predicted to cost Cambodia millions, along with risking the jobs of the 800,000 Cambodians employed in the garment and textile manufacturing sector.

In June, Kaing Monika, deputy secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, predicted it is unlikely the EU will fully withdraw EBA from the Kingdom because of “positive developments we have made in the last 20 years, both economically and socially”.

“We are working to address points of concern that the EU perceives as setbacks to labour rights post-2016, and those points are not really difficult to rectify,” Mr Monika added. “I think a certain level of mutual understanding will happen in the process of dialogue and negotiation…to achieve everything the EU demands might not be easy, so a partial withdrawal is likely.”

Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, yesterday said threatening to suspend the Kingdom’s EBA status is a part of an EU political agenda.

“I have noted that the EBA is [used] as part of their political agenda, and the EU may think about their core values,” Mr Phea said. “I think the government has to save face – it cannot exchange sovereignty for trade preferences.”


From: KHMER TIMES (CAMBODIA) December 12, 2019


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