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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: Chheng Niem, The Phnom Penh Post

"EU visit: Workers, unions and politicians express EBA fears", 6 June 2019 

Workers, union leaders … have expressed fear over the consequences of losing access to the EU’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement – something analysts have described as “manageable”.

A team from the European Commission and European External Action Service is currently in Cambodia for talks as part of the official withdrawal process… Cambodia received access to EBA in 2003. But in February, after almost 17 years, the European Commission launched the official procedure which could lead to a whole or partial withdrawal. It cited human and labour rights violations, ...

Union leaders said the loss of EBA access would not only affect workers in the garment industry, which exports its products to the EU’s single market, but also have indirect consequences.

Pav Sina, the president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), said development in Cambodia was a consequence of EBA, which had attracted investors in the garment and footwear industries.

…“We all are in this industry – both investors and workers. We do not want to see Cambodia lose its EBA access. We want to see Cambodia continue to grow. We want to see diversified job opportunities for the people,” Sina said.

“Currently, there are nearly one million workers. [The loss of EBA] would not only affect them but their families too, because workers are often the main source of income for these families,” said Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU)…

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Autor/in: Chheng Niem, The Phnom Penh Post

"Adidas raises EBA concerns", 25 March 2019

Sportswear giant Adidas has said that the EU should balance the human rights provisions in its trade policies and the impacts of the possible withdrawal of its Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.

The Adidas call came as the European Commission, after the two-day visit to Cambodia of an EU delegation, said it hoped to see “sustained and concrete progress” regarding the areas of concern.

A report … said that while Adidas agreed with the EU’s aims of addressing perceived concerns regarding human rights and civil rights violations in Cambodia, it asked that any decision to suspend the agreement “should thoroughly consider the economic, social and human rights impacts of such a withdrawal”…

“In case of a decision to suspend trade benefits, the European Commission should consider targeting specific sectors that are closely linked to the human and civil rights abuses. The garment and footwear sectors, with their significant footprint, should be excluded,” it said…

“This cannot be absorbed by Adidas and its retailers … it automatically leads to a reallocation of further investments in sourcing,” it warned.

Adidas said a withdrawal of the EBA benefits would put Cambodia at a significant competitive disadvantage to other least-developed and developing countries who continued to enjoy them…

“The European Commission and the EEAS [EU’s diplomatic European External Action Service] hope to see sustained and concrete progress in all areas of concern under EBA engagement, and look to Cambodia to urgently take the action needed in order to keep benefiting from EBA,” it said.

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Autor/in: Narim Khuon, Khmer Times

"Civil society groups address possible EBA suspension", 20 March 2019

Civil society groups and trade unions are calling for concrete measures to prevent the possible withdrawal of Cambodia’s Everything-but-arms preferential trade status during various meetings with the European Union ...

Ket Sophann, spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, ... said an EU delegation from Brussels will meet government officials ..., including Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn and Interior Minister Sar Kheng ...

“There will be a discussion tomorrow concerning NGOs and businessmen,” Mr Sophann said...

Following ... meeting, a total of 68 NGOs, associations and trade unions will express their concerns over the possible withdrawal of the EBA.

In a letter planned to be submitted after the meeting, the rights groups said that “as defenders of fundamental rights and labour rights, we fully understand the EU’s position and decision. However, we are deeply worried that the EBA suspension will directly and negatively impact Cambodian people’s welfare and livelihood.”

... “We, the undersigned Cambodian civil society organisations, associations, trade unions […] and citizens, call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to take concrete measures to restore civic space in Cambodia, and guarantee the protection and fulfilment of human rights and labour rights to ensure the people’s welfare and livelihood,” the letter said...

Soeng Sen Karuna, with rights group Adhoc, said the government should weigh in on the negative consequences of losing the EBA...

Government spokesman Phay Siphan ... said the government welcomes issues raised by NGOs concerning the suspension of EBA.

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Autor/in: Savi Khorn, The Phnom Penh Post

"Prime Minister Hun Sen announces free legal aid for garment workers", 21 February 2019 

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced … that factory workers will have access to legal representation free of charge once his volunteer group of his lawyers is established, while civil society groups say the government should instead improve labour law enforcement…

“I have already officially decided. Now I have 2,000 million riel or $500,000 in my hand to finance the work of my lawyers. But I am asking Ky Tech, the head of the government’s lawyers, to help me in preparing [the group]. This is not from the state budget. It is a budget I raised to establish a group of lawyers to defend poor clients,” he said…

National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia president Som Aun said he supported the move, believing that poor women, especially female garment workers, would now have qualified defence lawyers to help them if they found themselves in court…

Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (Central) executive director Moeun Tola praised the positive intentions in creating the lawyers’ group but wanted the government, through the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, to provide unions with the freedom to operate and have other related rights as stated in the Labour Law…

Ministry’s spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment.

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Autor/in: European Commission

"Cambodia: EU launches procedure to temporarily suspend trade preferences", 11 February 2019

The EU has … started the process that could lead to the temporary suspension of Cambodia's preferential access to the EU market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme. EBA preferences can be removed if beneficiary countries fail to respect core human rights and labour rights…

High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini said: "…, we have seen the deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia... In recent months, the Cambodian authorities have taken a number of positive steps, including the release of political figures, civil society activists and journalists and addressing some of the restrictions on civil society and trade union activities..."

EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: "It should be clear that today's move is neither a final decision nor the end of the process. But the clock is now officially ticking and we need to see real action soon... Our engagement with the situation in Cambodia has led us to conclude that there are severe deficiencies when it comes to human rights and labour rights in Cambodia that the government needs to tackle if it wants to keep its country's privileged access to our market." 

Following a period of enhanced engagement,…, the Commission has concluded that there is evidence of serious and systematic violations of core human rights and labour rights in Cambodia,... as well as of the freedoms of assembly, expression and association...

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Autor/in: Chanthol Prak, Reuters

"Cambodia businesses, unions ask EU not to impose trade sanctions", 21 January 2019

Cambodian businesses and unions urged the European Union … to not withdraw trade preferences from Cambodia over human rights concerns, saying such a decision would pose serious economic damage and harm millions of workers and their families.

The EU warned … that it would strip Cambodia of its “Everything but Arms” (EBA) duty-free trading access, …

A letter addressed to EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom … said the trade threat was most concerning for Cambodia’s rural women. “(They) make up 85 percent of the 700,000 garment workers and (are) therefore most likely to suffer ... from the social and economic repercussions of any change to the status quo,” it said…

“We ask the European Commission instead to examine the current situation through the context of Cambodia’s difficult history,” the letter said.

The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) and the American Chamber of Commerce, two of the 40 signatories, confirmed the authenticity of the letter.

The EU’s Ambassador to Cambodia, George Edgar, did not immediately respond to a request … for comment.

In a tweet …, Malmstrom said she had discussed the EBA agreement and the possibility of a withdrawal of the tariff preferences with Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn.

“Reiterated our concerns on democracy, human rights and rule of law. The EU continues to keep the path of dialogue open,” she said ...

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Autor/in: Koemsoeun Soth, The Phnom Penh Post

"EU calls for improved government resolution of land disputes", 27 December 2018

An EU delegation and civil society groups have called for better action on land disputes in Cambodia, even as the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction outlined its plans to offer speedier solutions to remaining disputes ...

First counsellor of the EU delegation in Cambodia Simone Pieri said land disputes remain a critical issue, adding that the EU received many dispute petitions related to economic land concessions ...

“Ensuring progress in the resolution of land disputes remains one of the highest political priorities of the EU’s relations with the Cambodian government,” Pieri said.

At the 10th EU-Cambodia Joint Committee, …, the EU also expressed its concerns over allegations of land grabbing related to economic land concessions for sugar plantations.

It reiterated that respect of human and labour rights is embedded as a prerequisite in the EU’s Everything But Arms trade concession with the Kingdom.

The EU’s comments came after the ministry issued a report … saying its priority was to speed up the country’s remaining land disputes…

Equitable Cambodia executive director Eang Vuthy told … that the government has established many taskforces to tackle land disputes that, if correctly implemented, will help reduce land disputes.

Vuthy said many of the land disputes started years ago, especially in economic land concessions such as the beach areas in Preah Sihanouk and Koh Kong provinces…

To end land disputes they should register land plots and issue land ownership documents faster, he said…

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Autor/in: Kayleigh Long & Meta Kong, BBC

"'If the factory closes what could I afford to eat?'", 13 December 2018

Sao Run is worried that if the clothing factory where she works closes down she won't be able to feed herself and her son... With overtime she can earn up to $250 (£200) a month, but the future of the workshop and others like it in the country is now uncertain due to a continuing political dispute between the European Union (EU) and Cambodia.

Cambodia's garments manufacturing sector has boomed in recent years, ... This has led to about 200 international fashion brands now using more than 600 factories in the country, lured by both the country's low wages, and the fact they don't have to pay any duties when exporting to the EU...

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said that the EU was launching a six-month review of the situation in Cambodia, and that unless Phnom Penh showed "clear and demonstrable improvements, this would lead to suspension of trade preferences" within 12 months...

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, says that the EU's threat has "heightened concerns" that international fashion firms could take their manufacturing business to other countries...

..., the Cambodian government may now be prepared to compromise, but whether it does enough remains to be seen... the country's parliament ... said it would review a ban on more than 100 members of the opposition CNRP, but ...

Sebastian Strangio, journalist and author of a book called Hun Sen's Cambodia, says the Cambodian government faces a real dilemma over the EU issue...

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Autor/in: Chanthol Prak, Reuters

"Cambodia reviews ban on opposition after EU sanctions threat", 3 December 2018

Cambodia’s parliament is reviewing a five-year ban on … the main opposition party, …, following threats by the European Union to deny duty-free trading access to the Southeast Asian nation.

The EU … began a formal procedure to strip Cambodia of its “Everything but Arms (EBA)” initiative, after Prime Minister Hun Sen returned to power ...

“To further promote democracy and the rule of law, the National Assembly is reviewing legal provisions to enable individuals who were banned from politics to resume political activities,” Cambodia’s foreign ministry said ...

The party’s deputy president, Mu Sochua, demanded that Sokha be freed, with all charges dropped and the party reinstated.

“Piecemeal solutions do not and cannot restore democracy. The judiciary must be independent and not a political tool,” Sochua told Reuters.

Cambodia’s independent media also faced increasing pressure from Hun Sen and his allies ahead of the July vote.

The English-language Cambodia Daily shut down … after the government ordered it to pay millions of dollars in back taxes or face closure. About 30 radio stations were also shut ...

“These announcements are likely conditions under withdrawal of ‘Everything But Arms (EBA)’,” Naly Pilorge of the Cambodia-based Licadho rights group told Reuters…

 

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Autor/in: Kijewski Leonie, South China Morning Post

8 November 2018

Phong Sokhit, a rice farmer in Cambodia’s Kampong Speu province, has long held out hope that the European Union (EU) would put pressure on his country to respect human rights… “We want the prime minister to help, to compromise, and to improve the human rights situation,” Sokhit said in an interview, referring to Cambodia’s strongman leader Hun Sen…

Under its terms, the agreement can be suspended if certain human rights standards are not met… The EU also has called on the government to resolve its land disputes with citizens, most of which involve the sugar industry, and cease the practice of “land grabbing.”

“We just hope that the government will address those identified issues to avoid the removal of EBA [status] as this will hurt Cambodia,” said Eang Vuthy, director of land rights NGO Equitable Cambodia… Under EU regulations, the EU should “monitor and evaluate” the situation for six months after formally beginning proceedings...

George Edgar, the EU ambassador to Cambodia, said a formal launch of proceedings had not been decided on yet. “There is an internal process of consultation across the commission, followed by consultation of the member states through the relevant committee, but I cannot give a date for completion,” he said.

An EU Commission source said the body could “reconsider the situation” if Cambodia took “credible” measures to remedy the problems…

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