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EU to launch withdrawal process of trade preferences in Cambodia over rights concerns & warns Myanmar of potential similar action

The EU is launching the process to end Cambodia's duty-free access to the European Market for exports, and is considering suspending similar trading privileges in Myanmar for human rights abuses in Rakhine state. 

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Autor/in: Dara Mech, The Phnom Penh Post

"Sar Kheng: Gov’t to tell EU it found no evidence of NGO ‘repression’", 8 December 2019

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said his ministry will respond to EU claims that Cambodian civil society organisations had been threatened and repressed by saying it could not find evidence to support the allegations of certain NGOs…

“Some information failed to reach us even though some NGOs have said they sent the information directly to us. We cannot act to resolve such issues when we have not received the information.

“This is the truth,” Sar Kheng said, referring to accusations cited by the EU in its decision to start the process for the possible withdrawal of the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement.

He said the Ministry of Interior had not found any cases of threats or repression as claimed by some NGOs…

He said the Ministry of Interior had taken all concerns regarding the Law on Associations and NGOs (Lango) seriously and held national forums to meet with NGOs every six months…

He said Ministry of Interior officials were working with NGOs to discuss amendments to the Lango…

“Problems have occurred in the past, including the closure of an internal bureau and the postponement of the activities of some NGOs, with some being prevented from organising workshops in the last three years.

“Some NGOs have also been put under surveillance,” said Soeng Sen Karuna, spokesperson for rights group Adhoc.

He said some members of the Situation Room, which monitors elections, had been accused of being involved in a “colour revolution”, while some civil society groups working in advocacy and election monitoring had been placed in a “white book”…

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Autor/in: Sotheary Pech, Khmer Times

"Kratie resolves Memot Rubber Plantation land dispute in Snuol", 28 November 2019

Kratie provincial authorities have resolved a land dispute between more than 1,800 families and the Memot Rubber Plantation Company in Snuol district’s Pi Thnou commune.

Khan Chamnan, provincial deputy governor, ... said that each family will receive two hectares of Social Land Concessions.

He noted that the resolution process began ... last year and was successfully resolved this month with the government deciding to carve out about 4,000 hectares from an Economic Land Concession for the company to be given to the families.

Mr Chamnan said more than 4,000 hectares has been carved out in two locations, one involving more than 600 hectares and the other more than 3,000 hectares.

“The land allocation in the area will benefit 1,884 families, or nearly 7,000 family members,” he noted.

Kao Madilen, provincial Department of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction director, ... said that the government allocated the two hectares per family for them to build houses and farm...

The land dispute in Pi Thnou commune began in March 2018 and turned ugly when there was a clash between the armed forces and a group of protesters who blocked National Road 76A to prevent the company’s bulldozers from clearing their crops in the area...

Siv Vy, a resident among those who sought intervention, ... thanked the government for successfully resolving the land dispute and giving out two hectares of land to each family.

However, he urged provincial authorities to speed up repairing a road and other infrastructure in the area to facilitate people’s living...

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Autor/in: Vida Taing, Khmer Times

"Labour rights groups brief US ambassador over rights situation", 28 November 2019

A group of labour rights NGOs ... met with US Ambassador Patrick Murphy to highlight improvements to the Kingdom’s laws and challenges workers still face.

Moeun Tola, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights, ... said the groups stated their concerns over the Trade Union Law, noting that the law did not fully promote workers’ rights and ensure union freedom.

The National Assembly ... amended ten articles of the law in a bid to protect workers’ rights and improve union freedom, but Mr Tola and other unionists say the effort fell short.

“We have the same opinion over the problem on the rights to form unions and the right to collective bargaining,” Mr Tola said. “A unionist can no longer represent workers when there is a labour dispute.”

“The amendments did not fully respond to and reflect the main issues that concerned stakeholders,” he added...

William Conklin, country director of the US-based Solidarity Centre, ... said the groups believe that there were other issues that needed to be addressed in the amendments.

“As you know, unions had given a list of requests, the changes that they wanted to see, but many of those were not addressed,” he said.

Mr Conklin said the meeting also touched on various other issues, including the extended Better Factories Cambodia programme, how to ensure that the labour law is complied with and that labour rights are protected in the new travel goods sector...

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour ... said it is inevitable that some labour rights NGOs will express disappointment and concerns...

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Autor/in: Sokhean Ben, Khmer Times

"Draft Lango amendments on the table", 29 November 2019

The Interior Ministry is due to hold a meeting with representatives of local and foreign NGOs ... in a bid to review and give feedback over draft amendments to the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations.

The ministry issued a statement ... saying that the meeting will be held ... between representatives of local and international NGOs and the government’s working group to work out requests for amendments made by the NGOs.

It said the contentious contents in Lango will be raised and discussed in detail.

Lango was passed in 2015 by CPP lawmakers amid a parliamentary boycott by opposition CNRP lawmakers.

The law requires more than 5,000 local and international NGOs working in the Kingdom to register with the government and report their activities and finances or risk fines, criminal prosecution or shutdowns.

Korn Savang, coordinator for election monitor Comfrel, yesterday said that his organisation will attend the second meeting on Tuesday and noted that it will raise its concern regarding the law...

Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak ... denied that the government restricted NGOs’ activities.

“Due to their criticism, now we decided to sit down and discuss it together,” Gen Sopheak said. “What do you want and what can we fix? They have accused the government of restricting and monitoring their activities.”

Gen Sopheak said that Lango aims to protect the interest of the country and people...

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Autor/in: Vida Taing, Khmer Times

"Sar Kheng says Kingdom is addressing European Union’s land dispute concerns", 21 November 2019

Interior Minister Sar Kheng ... said that the government has already made progress on one of the points listed in the European Commission’s preliminary report on whether the Kingdom should retain its Everything-but-arms trade status with the European Union.

The government is currently reviewing the preliminary report, which was submitted last week, and Mr Kheng ... revealed that one of the points of concern listed by the EC is land disputes in the Kingdom.

“I am interested in one point written in the preliminary report,” Mr Kheng said. “It was about resolving land disputes.”

“The government has clearly put a lot of effort into it,” he added. “It remains a problem, but it has been narrowed down. The EC’s report acknowledges positive progress.”

According to a report issued by the Ministry of Land Management on October 2, its cadastral committee received a total of 1,894 complaints on land disputes.

Of those, the ministry solved 1,765 cases and refused to investigate one because it was not under their jurisdiction. The rest is yet to be resolved.

The EBA status allows preferential access to the European Union market. It has been under review by the EC since February. The EC said duty-free trade under the EBA may be suspended due to serious and systematic violations of labour and human rights...

Ngy Chanphal, a secretary of state with the Interior Ministry, ... said the EC’s preliminary report noted positive steps taken by the government in the past nine months to retain the Kingdom’s EBA status...

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Autor/in: Sokhean Ben, Khmer Times

"Hun Sen slams EU over unacceptable EBA demands", 22 November 2019

Prime Minister Hun Sen ... said demands being made by the European Union in order for the Kingdom to retain its Everything-but-arms trade status are unacceptable and will not be fully implemented.

“We cannot accept what they demand,” Mr Hun Sen said during a speech at an inauguration ceremony in Phnom Penh. “We cannot exchange our legal system and independence [to retain the EBA].”

Mr Hun Sen’s comments came after the European Commission filed a preliminary report with the government ... regarding steps the government must take to retain its EBA status...

The EU has been demanding that the government “restore democracy and the rule of law, and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms”, referring to the dissolution of the opposition party and crackdowns on civil society and press freedom...

The EU is one of Kingdom’s biggest markets for textile and garment products with duty-free access under the EBA. The EU market accounts for about 40 percent of Cambodia’s exports.

Moeun Tola, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights, yesterday said the government should fulfil the EU’s demands to retain the EBA.

Mr Tola said that investors will move to other countries if the EBA is withdrawn, noting that the government should provide stronger support to investors so they still do business in the Kingdom.

“If the government can provide subsidies for their investments, it will be good,” he said...

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Autor/in: Dara Mech, The Phnom Penh Post

"Government studying EU’s preliminary report on EBA", 14 November 2019

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation … said the government was studying the EU Commission’s preliminary report on the human rights situation in the Kingdom that could lead to a suspension of access to its “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement.

The EU launched the EBA withdrawal procedure …, citing “a deterioration of democracy [and] respect for human rights” in Cambodia.

The commission completed its report … after a three-month investigation … and has given the government one month to respond.

Ministry spokesman Kuy Kuong said the government would study the report before making an official response.

“The ministry received the report … and will study it first,” he said.

EU trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom … said the EU would make its final decision in February.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan … said Cambodia would continue to explain to the EU the actual human rights situation in the Kingdom and the government’s efforts in promoting democracy through various reforms.

… “With regard to human rights, we have continued to address the issue through various reforms. We have a human rights commission to assess all legal aspects concerning human rights in implementing laws,” Siphan said.

… The Phnom Penh Municipal Court … reduced the bail conditions of Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Sokha more than two years after he was charged with treason.

Sokha’s new bail conditions allow him to travel anywhere within the country but forbid him from being involved in politics…

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Autor/in: Zazithorn Ruengchinda, ScandAsia

"H&M consider leaving Cambodia due to EU trade sanctions", 10 November 2019

Mr. David Savman, head of production at H&M, said the company would do less business in Cambodia if the current EU trade benefits ended and named China and Indonesia as alternative sourcing countries.

Mr. Savman was attending the Textile and Apparel SEA Summit in Phnom Penh … when quoted ... for saying that H&M, which has about 50 factories in Cambodia, had an exit strategy in place and that the firm had no further obligation to the Cambodian workers.

Cambodia benefits from the EU’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) trade programme, which allows Cambodia to export most goods to the EU, duty-free.

The agreement is in jeopardy because the EU is accusing the Cambodian government of violating human rights.

The EU bloc is Cambodia’s largest trading partner, accounting for 45 percent of its exports in 2018. Clothing factories in the country employ 700,000 workers, and garments make up a large share of exports to the EU, worth about $5.5 billion.

Yet the value of exports to Europe fell by about $600 million in the first half of 2019 compared with the same period last year, according to Ken Loo, secretary general at the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC).

… The European Chamber of Commerce estimates that 90,000 jobs would be at risk if the EU suspended special trade preferences over Cambodia’s record on democracy and human rights.

Cambodia’s garment factories are estimated to employ one in every 25 people, most of them young women who provide for their extended families…

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Autor/in: European Commission

"Cambodia: European Commission finalises preliminary report on temporary suspension of trade preferences", 12 November 2019

The European Commission sent … to the authorities of Cambodia a preliminary report outlining the findings of the investigation triggered … under the procedure for a possible temporary withdrawal of Everything But Arms (EBA) trade preferences.

The Everything But Arms arrangement is one pillar of the EU's Generalised Scheme of Preferences, which unilaterally grants duty-free and quota-free access to the European market for all products (except arms and ammunition) from the world's Least Developed Countries, as defined by the United Nations. These trade preferences may be suspended in case of "serious and systematic violation of principles" laid down in the human rights and labour rights Conventions…

Cambodia is the second-largest beneficiary of EBA trade preferences, accounting for over 18% of all imports coming into the EU market under the EBA scheme in 2018. EU imports from Cambodia totalled €5.3 billion in 2018, 95% of which entered the EU duty-free taking advantage of EBA preferences. Clothing and textiles account for around three quarters of EU imports from Cambodia (€4 billion).

In line with the rules outlined in the regulation on the EU's Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), Cambodia now has one month to react to this preliminary report…

The aim of the procedure is to address human rights and labour rights concerns in Cambodia. While the European Union remains committed to working with the Cambodian authorities on this aim, real and credible improvement on the issues of concern is needed in order to avoid the withdrawal of EBA preferences.

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Autor/in: Chheng Niem, The Phnom Penh Post

"GMAC calls for halt to union negotiations due to uncertainty over EBA", 17 July 2019

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has, for a second time, called for the suspension of negotiations with the Trade Union Negotiation Council due to uncertainties surrounding the EU’s “Everything But Arms” agreement.

The association repeated a request to suspend discussions over the garment sector’s Collective Bargaining Agreement,…

“The GMAC executive committee feels that the uncertainty surrounding EBA means we are not in any position to enter into major negotiations that will impact the industry."

“We look forward to re-engaging on the issue of a sectoral [Collective Bargaining Agreement] once we have certainty and clarity on the EBA matter."…

The Trade Union Negotiation Council said the decision to suspend all negotiations put the progress made in discussions at risk.

It said the uncertainty brought about by the ongoing EBA withdrawal process had implications for potential future agreements but believed such uncertainty could be managed through dialogue.

“We continue to believe that engagement between employers and trade unions on a collective agreement would be a positive signal to the EU of the commitment of the parties involved in practising dialogue."…

Pav Sina, the president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, is one of the nine members of the Trade Union Negotiation Council…

Some talks had been held this year, but they were yet to address benefits for workers, he said.

“The suspension of negotiations by employers affects the progress we have made together since late 2017."

“It also means that the discussions on labour rights, working conditions and other benefits also stall. This means that what workers receive remains the same and is not improved,” Sina said…

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