EU MPs threaten Cambodia aid and trade over crackdown
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – A European Parliament delegation warned on Tuesday that Cambodia could face EU action over aid and vital trade preferences if the human rights situation worsened further.
The delegation’s statement was the strongest threat of action from representatives of any Western donors since the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha in September and steps by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to dissolve his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Delegation of the European Parliament called for the release of Kem Sokha and an end to the process of dissolving his party.
“The government of Cambodia should be aware that the European Parliament is a co-legislator for budgetary and trade issues,” said the delegation’s chairman, Werner Langen, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats party.
“A serious deterioration of the human rights situation might have implications for development assistance programs and trade preferences,” he said after a two-day visit.
Huy Vannak, undersecretary of state at Cambodia’s Interior Ministry, said the European Parliament should keep trade and politics separate.
“Some members of the European Parliament should distinguish between political agenda and trade for the interests of the people. We need to create many choices rather than make the interests of the people a hostage of a political agenda,” Huy Vannak told Reuters.
“Without economic prosperity, democracy will just be an illusion,” he said.
European Union countries accounted for around 40 percent of Cambodia’s exports in 2016. Its exports, mostly of clothing, get fully duty free access under a scheme to help the world’s poorest countries.
Western diplomats say in private it would be difficult to secure EU agreement for limiting trade preferences because of the harm it could do to some 700,000 low-wage garment workers employed in Cambodian factories.
The European Union and its member states also gave Cambodia nearly $170 million in development aid last year, according to Cambodian government figures.