Presenting facts to the European Union (EU) Commissioner in Brussels in an open forum countering EU allegations on human rights, Chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) Van Sou Ieng recently questioned the EU’s grounds for launching the official procedure in February that could lead to Cambodia’s access to EBA being suspended.

An EU fact-finding team visited Cambodia in June 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, according to a report.

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. Although the EU said human rights improvements were attached to the free trade agreement (FTA) signed with Vietnam on June 30, Cambodian analysts accused the EU of eyeing economic benefits in the Vietnam FTA.

Kin Phea, 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, he said.

Bradley J Murg, assistant professor of political science and Asian studies at Seattle Pacific University, said the EU withdrawing EBA for Cambodia would be devastating for its reputation in having human rights consistently in its trade policy.