Cambodia is pondering retaliation if the European Union takes back its duty-free trade access over human rights concerns. When addressing the EU, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened such an action by saying “if you want the opposition dead, just cut it,” and added that “if you want the opposition alive, don’t do it and come and hold talks together,” he said.
At the end of last year, Brussels started a formal procedure to remove Cambodia off of the list of countries covered by the Everything but Arms (EBA) status after Mr. Hun Sen returned to power after a general election in which his political party seized all the seats in the parliament following a crackdown on the opposition. EBA aims to help low-income economies to boost trade and economic growth but the status can be withdrawn in the case of serious violations of human rights. The EU said it would resort to such an action over the crackdown against the opposition last summer – the election that Brussels described as not credible.
Mr. Hun Sen has been in power for 34 years and said that he would be unforgiving to those who had appealed to the West to curb development aid in order to put pressure on his cabinet, and said opponents ought to get ready to flee abroad. “People are prepared to flee, be prepared,” Hun Sen said. “I won’t forgive them.” The EU is an important trading partner to Cambodia. In 2016, it took about 40% of the country’s exports, most of it from the textile industry that employs about 700,000 people.