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EU slashes Cambodia trade benefits over rights violations

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Agence France-Presse

The European Union on Wednesday slashed trade benefits for Cambodia over the kingdom’s human rights record, top officials said.

The EU said it would partially suspend duty-free preferences under the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) deal, a scheme meant to help boost trade in some of the world’s poorest economies.

“The European Union will not stand and watch as democracy is eroded, human rights curtailed, and free debate silenced,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

The decision was however a partial one, with the withdrawal hitting about 20 percent or one billion euros of Cambodia’s yearly exports to the EU.

“The respect for human rights is non-negotiable for us. We recognise the progress Cambodia has made, but serious concerns remain,” EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said.

In anticipation, Cambodia’s strongman leader Hun Sen said Tuesday his country would not “bow its head” in the face of the EU’s criticism.

But the premier warned of economic rough seas ahead for his country, with some garment factories likely to close in the coming weeks as key supply chains from China slow amid the coronavirus crisis.

The move follows repeated calls from the EU to drop charges against opposition leader Kem Sokha who is currently on trial for treason, a charge widely pilloried as politically motivated.

“We have to try to survive” on our own, said, Hun Sen, who has ruled for over 35 years, said on Tuesday.

The move by the EU could make a big dent in the country’s big garment sector worth billions of dollars.

The industry employs more than 700,000 workers, according to the country’s factory association.

Cambodia is the EU’s sixth largest garment supplier and the country exports more than $4 billion worth of clothing and textile products to the bloc in 2018.

But other areas of the kingdom’s economy have been backed with Chinese investment and soft loans — delivered without questions over rights and democracy.

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