Representatives of the EU are considering re-establishing the Everything But Arms (EBA) in Cambodia if the Kingdom can open political space for the 2023 election, a move that has been welcomed by a social analyst who considers returning it necessary to promote Cambodia's economy, especially citizens' livelihood who work in garment and textile factories.
On Thursday, Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, posted on his Twitter account about a meeting between Prak Sokhonn, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, after the end of the EU-ASEAN Summit in Brussels about reinstating the EBA to Cambodia.
“Benefitted from his insights as Myanmar Special Envoy. [We] discussed EU relations & how opening political space for Cambodia’s 2023 election can help re-establish full EBA trade regime,” he said on Twitter, with an attached photo with Prak Sakhonn as Cambodia’s ASEAN Chairmanship.
San Chey, President of the Cambodian Social Accountability Coalition, told Kiripost that if the EBA returns to Cambodia, it can help promote the nation’s economy, especially improve the livelihoods of those working in the textile sector.
“I think the Cambodian economy, especially the working conditions of Cambodians in the garment and textile sector, will be able to improve if 20 percent of EBA returns,” he said.
He said that the market for Cambodian clothing in the European Union is still important and can help the living standard of people there.
He added that even though Cambodia signed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with many other countries, the economic advantages are still small-scale as the number of imports is higher than exports to those Free Trade Agreement’s countries.
“Although Cambodia has free trade agreements, such as Cambodia-South Korea and Cambodia-China, the volume of Cambodia's exports to those countries still seems low compared to imports of goods [from those countries], which were agreed upon in the free trade agreement."
“Therefore, in this foreign trade relationship, by exporting non-payment of tax, or lifting tariff barriers, through this free trade agreement, Cambodia has not reaped the huge benefits yet. On the contrary, we still see the EBA playing a significant role for Cambodia.”
EBA status was granted to Cambodia in 2001. The EU initiative guarantees all imports, with the exception of weapons, to the EU from the least developed countries are duty- and quota-free. In February 2020, the EU said it was partially withdrawing Cambodia's preferential access, impacting about 20 percent of exports, due to increasing concerns about human rights issues.
In order to promote Cambodia's economy as well as restoring Cambodia's reputation on the international stage, he suggested Cambodia should promote democracy in the country more.
“Restoring the human rights situation and democracy, especially following the recommendations provided by friends from the EU, I think this is not a bad thing. If we take those recommendations and implement them well, we will benefit both economically and socially through Cambodia’s image on the international stage.”
However, on the Facebook page of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, there was no mention regarding the EBA that the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy discussed on the same day.
Chum Sounry, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.