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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22 January 2019

Cambodia: Businesses & unions send a joint letter to EU Trade Commissioner to express their concerns of potential EBA's withdrawal

Author: 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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29 December 2018

Cambodia: The European Union and civil society call on the govt. to introduce a comprehensive and consistent policy to improve land rights

Author: 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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14 December 2018

Cambodia: Garment factory workers worry about their future because of the potential EU's EBA withdrawal

Author: 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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4 December 2018

Cambodia: Govt. and National Assembly take further steps to improve civil and political rights after EU sanctions threat

Author: 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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9 November 2018

Cambodian workers weigh the cost of EU's stand on human rights

Author: 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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6 November 2018

Smith: Government could improve rights to lessen EBA issue

Author: Ben Sokhean, The Phnom Penh Post

6 November 2018

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith said the government could if it chose improve human rights in Cambodia, “and then there will be not so much issue if EBA [the EU’s preferential Everything But Arms agreement] or indeed any other agreement is at stake”.

Smith was speaking to journalists after a closed-door meeting with the president of the government’s Cambodian Human Rights Committee, Keo Remy…

When asked about the situation regarding EBA, Smith said: “I think for any development partners in Cambodia that have concerns about human rights, … the government can take small steps that will dramatically improve the human rights situation in the country…

“There is a need to ensure freedom of expression, assembly, association, strong civil society and also to ensure that there is no persecution of people lawfully exercising freedom of expression,” Smith said.

… Smith will conclude her trip with a press conference on Thursday outlining her “preliminary findings”. She is to present a report to the UNHCR in September next year.

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2 November 2018

Why international brands want Cambodia to meet EU demands

Author: Sharon Waxman & Michael Posner, EU Observer

1 November 2018

… The EU's review focuses attention on the larger political picture in Cambodia and especially … But Cambodia's deteriorating respect for the rights of workers also will be an important part of the EU's review process.

… Lately, however, progress on workers' rights in Cambodia has slowed significantly… 

A number of labour union and human rights leaders have been targeted for official harassment, and some have been arrested or criminally charged…

What should global apparel and footwear companies do? …

…, we participated in a delegation to Cambodia, led by the American Apparel & Footwear Association, an industry group, and the Fair Labor Association, a non-governmental organisation that brings together leading companies, universities and labour-rights organisations to improve workers' rights. 

Among the delegates were American and European companies such as adidas, New Balance, Nike, Puma, Under Armour and VF. 

The group met with Cambodian government officials to express concern about the shrinking space for independent trade unions and rights activists and communicated a desire to work with the officials to improve these conditions.

The group called on the government to drop the criminal charges in the cases of several labour leaders, ... 

The delegation urged changes to the laws ... The companies also advocated for the independent funding and operation of the Cambodian Arbitration Council, …

Global brands, …, can demonstrate corporate leadership by publicly urging governments to protect the rights of workers and support meaningful reforms…

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29 October 2018

Myanmar: Labor orgs call on EU to reconsider trade privileges withdrawal; loss of jobs & factory shutdowns feared

Author: Kyaw Thu & Kyaw Htun Naing, Radio Free Asia

"Myanmar Labor Groups Urge EU Not to Drop Crucial Trade Preferences," 29 October 2018

Myanmar labor organizations urged visiting European Union delegates... to reconsider the possible withdrawal of trade preferences that allow the developing country tariff-free access to the bloc, under threat from Brussels in response to alleged ethnic cleansing of ethnic Rohingya during a 2017 military campaign.

The EU delegation met with representatives from the Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar (CTUM), the Myanmar Infrastructure, Craft and Service (MICS) organizations, and the Agriculture and Farmers Federation of Myanmar (AFFM) in the commercial hub Yangon to discuss the preferential trade arrangement.

The mission’s findings will help the EU determine whether to withdraw Myanmar’s Everything But Arms (EBA) status...

Myanmar labor groups appealed to the mission not to withdrawal the EBA arrangement.

“We told them we don’t agree with the EU’s [possible] withdrawal of trade preferences,” said Maung Maung, president of the Myanmar Confederation of Trade Unions. “It would reflect badly on Myanmar workers and would be a minus sign for development work in Myanmar.”

Naw Aung Aung, vice president of MICS, said that if the EU withdraws trade preferences from Myanmar, its support for the country’s democratic reform will be “fruitless.”

Tun Tun, a central executive committee member of the MGMA, said that the withdrawal of trade preferences would force factories to shut down and workers to lose their jobs.


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21 October 2018

Commentary: Everything but common sense

Author: Frontier Myanmar

11 October 2018

The news that the European Union is considering revoking trade privileges for Myanmar due to alleged Tatmadaw atrocities in Rakhine State has provoked near-universal condemnation.

...Under the Everything But Arms programme...Myanmar has tariff-free access to the EU market. ...EBA has been a major boon for Myanmar's economy, particularly the garment sector.

...Trade and investment in manufacturing and agriculture directly benefit some of the poorest households in Myanmar. ...The presence of European buyers, who face more stringent due diligence requirements, has helped improved conditions for workers in Myanmar factories.

...Given the overwhelming evidence of abuses and the government's refusal to ensure accountability, withdrawing Myanmar's trade privileges could probably be justified.... But that could put hundreds of thousands of people out of work. It would be a textbook example of a misdirected sanction....

...[T]his is a risky and arguably reckless strategy, given the potential effect on vulnerable households....

...Even if the EU decides to maintain access, the review period is likely to dampen investment and trade, and could destabilise the economy....

The most important thing now is for both the EU and the Myanmar government to find a way forward that does not put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk.

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19 October 2018

Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the press conference following the Europe-Asia Summit

Author: European Union External Service

… With Cambodia, we have taken the decision to start the process of temporary withdrawal of the EBA trade preferences. I have discussed with the Prime Minister … Hun Sen … what our expectations are for what should happen for this not to go on - in particular the improvement of the political, democratic climate. I would say that there is a lot of concern in Europe, but not only in Europe, about the dissolution … of the main opposition party and in general terms the narrowed democratic space for political opposition and civil society.

We discussed this. I cannot say that we found solutions to any of these issues but ...

We agreed that our teams would work together, starting in these days and in the weeks to come,…

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