There is growing concern about the European Union’s (EU) proposed suspension of its Everything But Arms (EBA) trade agreement with Cambodia, a move which could set the country back years.
Established in 2001, EBA gives 49 of the world’s least developed countries tax-free access to vital EU markets for their exports except for arms and ammunition.
While the EU has always warned that EBA preferences can be removed if beneficiary countries fail to respect core United Nations (UN) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, there is a real threat that this could come at the cost of massive unemployment and stagnant growth in Cambodia.
Role in economy, employment
Making up 39 percent of the country’s total exports, the garment and footwear sectors employ more than 700,000 Cambodians and are the country’s largest employers. Cambodia’s exports to the EU totalled US$5.47 billion last year – more than a third of its total exports – with textiles and footwear making up the majority of that sum.
After the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia warned of a halt in the country’s development in February due to the possible EBA suspension, the National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia (NUACC) last week said that the lifting of the tariff system will affect the livelihoods of about three million Cambodians.
On 2 May, a coalition of 20 international brands which source from Cambodia – including Nike, adidas and Levi Strauss – wrote a letter to Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen outlining their concerns that the labour and human rights situation in Cambodia is posing a risk to trade preferences for the country.
The EBA suspension would increase tariffs in the garment sector by 12 percent and the footwear sector by eight to 16 percent, costing US$676 million in additional taxes. The fear is that the rise in tariffs could lead to investors moving to other countries that enjoy EBA, thus affecting Cambodian jobs.
The NUACC estimated that some 43 percent of garment workers (nearly 225,000 people) and 20 percent of footwear workers (more than 20,000 people) would be left unemployed, stating that “research suggests and history demonstrates that economic sanctions lead to an increase in poverty – especially among women, minority communities and other marginalised groups.”
Why is the EBA being removed?
The EBA has led to a 630 percent increase in Cambodia’s garment and footwear exports to the EU since 2008, helping the Cambodian economy to grow by 7.5 percent in 2018 according to the World Bank. The two sectors recorded a five-year high in 2018, rising by 17.6 percent – more than double the 8.3 percent increase in 2017.
Helping to lift one-third of the country’s population out of poverty between 2007 and 2014, the garment and footwear sectors are now at risk following the EU’s decision to start an 18-month review on whether to suspend duty-free preferences in February after the European Commission called Cambodia out for its “deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.”
The EU warned Cambodia that it could lose this special status after last July’s elections kept Hun Sen in power and saw his Cambodian People’s Party win all parliamentary seats.
Just your word to last tribute to the death of your friend, Cambodian incumbent authoritative and illegitimate leaders, both elders and youngs, have come out to denounce you. As I am younger generation, Cambodia is shameful by those irrational leaders who are very defensive, conservative, and radical in protecting foreigner like Vietnam. When they come out to denounce your statement about past invasion of Vietnam into Cambodia’s soil, it is not different from anti-national interests, anti-national constitution, and anti- the will of Cambodian people.
The CPP has been astute in their defending the action of Vietnam’s presence in Cambodia by claiming such action as liberation, not invasion…hence, their claim has resulted of losing support from Cambodian voters until they have decisively turned to use mean of last resort to renew power by using the Supreme Court to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) without having credible legal cause. By this gross act against the will of Cambodian people, CPP under Hun Sen leadership has likely changed to the Khmer Rouge leadership style by turning back on their own people or Westerners called “Enemy of the People”. Such heretic and paranoid power thirst, history of atrocity and crime against humanity would be possibly repeated itself.
There are also weirdest reaction from youngsters of those elites of Cambodia. They came out to denounce your statement and praise the Vietnamese. Those youngsters have been really domesticated by their elders to conduct “outward” policy towards foreigner such as Vietnam at the expenses of Cambodia’s interests. Those youngsters are believably groomed by corruption, entitlement and wealth without carrying basic humanity such as social justice, code of ethics, integrity, professionalism, and hard working to leapfrog from the incumbent political behaviour of division and serving foreign’s interests. Sometime, their graduation from Western sphere is just a brand to continually manipulate Cambodian public as their mindset and political behaviour are at the same baseline of their parents.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech during the 25th International Conference on The Future Of Asia in Tokyo, May 30, 2019.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday brushed aside calls by members of the Cambodian diaspora in Japan to resign, pledging instead to “wage war” against his country’s banned opposition party and vowing to “destroy” its acting president, Sam Rainsy.
During the third day of his May 28-31 visit to Tokyo to attend the 25th session of the Future of Asia conference, Hun Sen told regional leaders during a speech that he has no plans to step down or to back off former members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved in November 2017 for its alleged role in a plot to topple the government.
“I am declaring today that we will continue to implement legal measures against those who are being charged [with crimes],” Hun Sen said, referring to members of the CNRP leadership in exile, including Sam Rainsy, who fled the country in 2016 to avoid what he says are politically motivated convictions, and has worked to gather support for the party abroad.
“Meanwhile, I am waging war against a person [Sam Rainsy] who has claimed to have established a movement in Japan, Thailand and Cambodia to stage a war against me,” he added, calling the CNRP chief “a dog that I need to destroy.”
As long as the CNRP “continues to wage a war against me, I will continue to fight them,” Hun Sen vowed.
The 2017 Supreme Court ruling banning the CNRP paved the way for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to steamroll a general election in July last year widely seen as unfree and unfair, amid a wider crackdown on the opposition, NGOs and the independent media.
In addition to ongoing political restrictions on former CNRP officials, authorities have summoned dozens of former CNRP members in Battambang and Kampong Thom provinces for questioning in recent weeks for allegedly violating the Supreme Court decision after they were seen in public eating noodles together or had expressed support in social media posts for the party’s leaders.
Anti-Hun Sen protests
On Thursday, more than 30 members of Japan’s Cambodian diaspora held a protest outside of Hun Sen’s hotel in Tokyo, carrying banners demanding that he step down, and urging China to stop supporting his rule.
They also gathered outside of the home of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and in front of the National Diet of Japan, or parliament, shouting “Hun Sen must go” and likening him to Pol Pot, under whose 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime an estimated 3 million Cambodians are believed to have died.
Several protesters told RFA’s Khmer Service that they had left Cambodia to find work in Japan because they lacked opportunities back home, including Nep Bora, who said she envies Japanese citizens because “their government is taking care of them.”
“Hun Sen has been in power for about 40 years, but we don’t even have enough water and electricity,” she said of Southeast Asia’s longest ruling strongman.
Others highlighted governance issues under Hun Sen’s watch that include forest destruction, land disputes, rampant corruption, and widespread poverty.
In response to Hun Sen’s comments on Thursday, Sam Rainsy told RFA that the CNRP has no intention of starting a war against the prime minister, who he labeled a “gangster” that resorts to “abusive language.”
“We don’t regard Cambodians as enemies,” he said.
“Hun Sen is waging a war against Cambodians … I am appealing to Cambodians to oppose this dictator to prevent him from destroying our nation.”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay warned that the war of words between Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy is affecting Cambodia’s international reputation.
He also suggested that Hun Sen’s threats are part of a bid to dissuade Sam Rainsy from returning to Cambodia, as he has vowed to do this year so that he can lead the opposition to victory over the ruling party.
Members of the Cambodian diaspora in Japan display a banner used in a protest against Hun Sen in Tokyo, May 30, 2019. Credit: RFA listenersUS relations
While in Japan, Hun Sen expressed gratitude to his hosts for contributing to Cambodia’s development through financing and infrastructure, as well as investment by the Japanese private sector, and called for additional assistance from Tokyo going forward.