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#Cambodia - EU launches procedure to temporarily suspend trade preferences

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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.

Launching the temporary withdrawal procedure does not entail an immediate removal of tariff preferences, which would be the option of last resort. Instead, it kicks off a period of intensive monitoring and engagement. The aim of the Commission's action remains to improve the situation for the people on the ground.

High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini said: "Over the last eighteen months, we have seen the deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia. In February 2018, the EU Foreign Affairs Ministers made clear how seriously the EU views these developments. 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.However, without more conclusive action from the government, the situation on the ground calls Cambodia's participation in the EBA scheme into question. As the European Union, we are committed to a partnership with Cambodia that delivers for the Cambodian people. Our support for democracy and human rights in the country is at the heart of this partnership."

Trade Commissioner 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. We now go into a monitoring and evaluation process in which we are ready to engage fully with the Cambodian authorities and work with them to find a way forward. When we say that the EU's trade policy is based on values, these are not just empty words. We are proud to be one of the world's most open markets for least developed countries and the evidence shows that exporting to the EU Single Market can give a huge boost to their economies. Nevertheless, in return we ask that these countries respect certain core principles. 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, including a fact-finding mission to Cambodia in July 2018 and subsequent bilateral meetings at the highest level, the Commission has concluded that there is evidence of serious and systematic violations of core human rights and labour rights in Cambodia, in particular of the rights to political participation as well as of the freedoms of assembly, expression and association. These findings add to the longstanding EU concerns about the lack of workers' rights and disputes linked to economic land concessions in the country.

Today's decision will be published in the EU Official Journal on 12 February, kicking off a process that aims to arrive at a situation in which Cambodia is in line with its obligations under the core UN and ILO Conventions:

- A six-month period of intensive monitoring and engagement with the Cambodian authorities;

- followed by another three-month period for the EU to produce a report based on the findings, and;

- after a total of twelve months, the Commission will conclude the procedure with a final decision on whether or not to withdraw tariff preferences; it is also at this stage that the Commission will decide the scope and duration of the withdrawal. Any withdrawal would come into effect after a further six-month period.

High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini and Commissioner Malmström launched the internal process to initiate this procedure on 4 October 2018. Member States gave their approval to the Commission proposal to launch the withdrawal procedure at the end of January 2019.

Background

The Everything But Arms arrangement is one arm of the EU's Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP), which allows vulnerable developing countries to pay fewer or no duties on exports to the EU, giving them vital access to the EU market and contributing to their growth. The EBA scheme unilaterally grants duty-free and quota-free access to the European Union for all products (except arms and ammunition) for the world's Least Developed Countries, as defined by the United Nations. The GSP Regulation provides that trade preferences may be suspended in case of "serious and systematic violation of principles" laid down in the human rights and labour rights Conventions listed in Annex VIII of the Regulation.

Exports of textiles and footwear, prepared foodstuffs and vegetable products (rice) and bicycles represented 97% of Cambodia's overall exports to the EU in 2018. Out of the total exports of €4.9 billion, 99% (€4.8bn) were eligible to EBA preferential duties.

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MEMO: EU triggers procedure to temporarily suspend trade preferences for Cambodia

Trade relations with Cambodia

Generalized Scheme of Preferences

Cambodia

#Cambodia loses duty-free access to the EU market over human rights concerns

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As of 12 August, some of Cambodia's typical export products such as garments, footwear and travel goods are subject to the European Union's customs duties. The EU's decision to partially withdraw Cambodia's duty-free quota-free access to the EU market is now effective. The preferential treatment enjoyed by Cambodia under ‘Everything But Arms' (EBA) – the EU's trade arrangement for Least Developed Countries – is now temporarily lifted due to serious and systematic concerns related to human rights ascertained in the country.

Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan (pictured) said: “We have provided Cambodia with trade opportunities that let the country develop an export-oriented industry and gave jobs to thousands of Cambodians. We stand by their side also now in the difficult circumstances caused by the pandemic. Nonetheless, our continued support does not diminish the urgent need for Cambodia to respect human rights and labour rights. I stand ready to continue our engagement and to restore fully free access to the EU market for products from Cambodia provided we see substantial improvement in that respect.”

The withdrawal of preferential access to the EU market concerns approximately 20% of Cambodia's exports to the EU. The EU will keep on monitoring the situation in the country. If the government of Cambodia shows significant progress, particularly on civil and political rights, the Commission may review its decision and reinstate tariff preferences under the ‘Everything But Arms' arrangement, in line with the provisions of the EU Generalised Scheme of Preferences.

For more information, see the full press release, a press release on the withdrawal decision taken in February 2020 and the pages on EU-Cambodia trade relations and the Generalized Scheme of Preferences, including the Everything But Arms arrangement.

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Trade/Human Rights - Commission decides to partially withdraw #Cambodia preferential access to #EUMarket

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The European Commission has decided to withdraw part of the tariff preferences granted to Cambodia under the European Union's Everything But Arms' (EBA) trade scheme due to the serious and systematic violations of the human rights principles enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The withdrawal of tariff preferences – and their replacement with the EU's standard tariffs (most favoured nation, MFN) – will affect selected garment and footwear products, all travel goods and sugar. The Commission's decision addresses the human rights violations that triggered the procedure, while at the same time preserving the development objective of the EU trade scheme.

The withdrawal amounts to around one-fifth or €1 billion of Cambodia's yearly exports to the EU. High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell (pictured) said: “The duration, scale and impact of Cambodia's violations of the rights to political participation and to the freedoms of expression and association left the European Union with no other choice than to partially withdraw trade preferences. The European Union will not stand and watch as democracy is eroded, human rights curtailed, and free debate silenced. Today's decision reflects our strong commitment to the Cambodian people, their rights, and the country's sustainable development. For the trade preferences to be reinstated, the Cambodian authorities need to take the necessary measures.”

Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said: “The European Union is committed to supporting Cambodia's economic and social development through trade preferences. However, the respect for human rights is non-negotiable for us. We recognize the progress Cambodia has made, but serious concerns remain. Our aim is that the Cambodian authorities end human rights violations, and we will continue working with them in order to achieve that.”

Unless the European Parliament and the Council object, this will take effect on 12 August 2020.

A press release is available online.

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#HumanRights: Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador

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MEPs call for the release of Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, the reinstatement of Cambodian opposition lawmakers, and the decriminalization of miscarriage and abortion in El Salvador.

Vietnam: release Nguyen Van Hoa

The European Parliament calls for the release of Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, sentenced on 27 November to seven years in prison on charges of producing propaganda against the state. Hoa reported on the environmental disaster that took place in the Ha Tinh Province in April 2016, when toxic waste spilled into the ocean by Taiwanese firm Formosa Ha Thinh killed huge numbers of fish and made people ill.

The Vietnamese authorities should release all citizens detained for exercising their freedom of expression and end all restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders, say MEPs. They also call for a moratorium on the death penalty in Vietnam, as a first step towards abolishing capital punishment.

Cambodia: reverse the ban on the main opposition party

MEPs urge the Cambodian authorities to reverse their decision to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and ban 118 CNRP politicians from politics for five years. They also call for the release of CNRP leader Kem Sokha, arrested on 3 September. MEPs express concern about the general elections scheduled for July 2018, stressing that an electoral process from which the main opposition party has been excluded is not legitimate.

Cambodia currently benefits from EU’s preferential EBA (Everything But Arms) scheme, the most favourable regime available under the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences. If Cambodian authorities do not respect fundamental rights, these tariff preferences must be temporarily withdrawn, say MEPs. They also ask the European External Action Service and the EU Commission to prepare a list of individuals responsible for the dissolution of the opposition and other serious human rights violations in Cambodia, with a view to imposing visa restrictions and asset freezes on them.

El Salvador: Free the women prosecuted for miscarriage

Parliament urges the El Salvador authorities to release women and girls imprisoned after suffering stillbirths or miscarriages and to decriminalize abortion. The Salvadoran Legislative Assembly should reform the Penal Code to allow abortion, at least in cases where pregnancy poses a risk to the life of a pregnant woman or to her physical or mental health, where there is severe and fatal impairment of the foetus, or in cases of rape or incest, say MEPs. Meanwhile, they ask authorities to place a moratorium on the enforcement of the current law.

Since 2000, at least 120 women in El Salvador have been prosecuted for abortion-related offences, 26 of whom were convicted of homicide and 23 of abortion. MEPs ask Salvadoran courts to set aside their judgments in the two most recent cases: those of Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, whose 30-year prison sentence was upheld on Wednesday by the appeal court, and Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz, whose sentence was confirmed in October 2017.

The three resolutions have been voted by show of hands on Thursday (14 December).

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