GMAC chair questions EU in Brussels over EBA withdrawal

PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/ANN) - The chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) questioned the EU’s grounds for launching the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement withdrawal process.

The chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia
(GMAC) said that in Brussels on Wednesday, it questioned the EU’s
grounds for launching the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement
withdrawal process.

GMAC had also presented information about Cambodia to the EU Commissioner in the Belgian capital.

With Vietnam having recently signed a Free Trade Agreement with the
EU, one analyst said he believed the EU cared more about economic gain
than human rights. Another said Cambodia was already prepared to lose
EBA access.

“On Wednesday in Brussels, there was an open forum for public opinion
and for representatives from every interested party to raise their
concerns and discuss the Cambodian government’s actions in regards to
the suspension of access to EBA."

“GMAC is an interested party in this process. We made a
presentation to the EU Commissioner. We asked on what grounds the
process had been launched, and we submitted the facts to respond to any
potential claims,” GMAC chairman Van Sou Ieng said.

The EU in February launched the official procedure that could lead to Cambodia’s access to EBA being suspended.

In June, an EU fact-finding team visited Cambodia and will produce a
report on its findings in mid-August. The final decision on EBA will be
made in February next year.

The EU said the June mission had looked at some of the major issues
of concern in Cambodia, including the potential violation of political
rights and the freedoms of expression and association.

Possible infringements of the right to organise and collective
bargaining were also looked at, as was the dispossession of land due to
economic land concessions, particularly in the sugar sector.

While Cambodia was on the way to possibly losing its access to the
EBA agreement, its neighbour Vietnam signed a Free Trade Agreement with
the EU on June 30.

The deal was described by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom
after its signing as “the most ambitious trade agreement the EU has
signed with a developing country”.

The EU said human rights improvements had been attached to the deal with Vietnam.

However, analysts have said they believe economic gain was the end goal of the agreement.

Kin Phea, the director of the International Relations Institute at
the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said revenue was the ultimate topic of
discussion in trade. Therefore, the EU and Vietnam would do what they
could to benefit their economies.

“It is a message to Cambodia that we must care about our national
interests. The EU’s real concerns about human rights and democracy are
something we don’t know, but they do care about economic gain,” he said.

He said politicians from the former opposition Cambodia National
Rescue Party wanted to see EBA withdrawn, while the government had tried
to keep access to it.

However, he said Cambodia could not exchange such agreements for its
sovereignty so the government had opted to diversify trade by exporting
products to markets outside the EU.

Bradley J Murg, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Asian
Studies at Seattle Pacific University, said it was his view that the EU
withdrawing EBA for Cambodia would be devastating for its reputation in
having human rights consistently in its trade policy.

“I just don’t see how Brussels squares inking an enormous trade deal
with China – a country engaged in cultural genocide against its Uighur
population – and a more recent deal with Vietnam – which ranks lower
than Cambodia in Freedom House scores – and maintaining any credibility
with the contention that it is applying any sort of consistent set of
standards.

“To a political economist such as myself, such an action reads as
“the EU cares about human rights but only if the economic gains are not
so large – noting the much larger European economic footprints and
markets in China and Vietnam compared to Cambodia,” Murg said.

He said it was essential that the Cambodian government continued its
already serious efforts in preserving EBA access in order to ensure
strong continued economic growth.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the government’s successive
statements on EBA and its measures to cut production costs indicated it
was prepared to accept the eventual withdrawal of access to the
agreement.

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