And China Steps In: Cambodia Seeks Allies as EU Threatens Its Trade Privileges

Written by | Friday, May 3rd, 2019

Cambodia said that China has agreed to provide support and assistance in case the European Union implements trade sanctions against it over human rights violations and problems with the rule of law. Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of the Southeast Asian nation, reassured that China would step in when coming back from his visit to Beijing where he attended a forum on China’s trillion-dollar ‘Belt and Road’ initiative. He also said that China had promised around $89 million in military assistance.
The EU said in February this year that it was considering launching an action that could suspend Cambodia’s preferential access to its market, citing “severe deficiencies when it comes to human rights and labor rights.” The EU currently grants duty-free and quota-free access for all products except for arms. Besides the so-called ‘Everything but Arms’ initiative, Cambodia also takes advantage of the granting of “regional cumulation”. Unfinished textile products imported from some ASEAN countries and finished in Cambodia are considered of Cambodian origin, allowing the country to export clothes produced with these materials to the EU more easily.
Cambodia has successfully taken advantages of the privileges granted by the EU. In 2016, the bloc was its main export destination with a value of around 4.6 billion euros, a rise of more than 11% compared to the previous year. Back at the beginning of the year, the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry said that the EU’s decision marked an “extreme injustice” that ignored steps the government had taken to make civil and political rights better. The statement said Cambodia “is committed to continue enhancing the democratic space, human rights [and] labor rights” and that the European move “takes the risk of negating 20 years’ worth of development efforts” that had helped pull millions of Cambodians out of poverty.

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