Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that EU member states Hungary and the Czech Republic have given the Cambodian government their support against the possible withdrawal of the 28-member bloc’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement.
The EU launched the procedure that could see Cambodia potentially lose access to the EBA on February 12, citing “a deterioration of democracy [and] respect for human rights”.
Hun Sen said that Cambodia had been assured the backing of the Hungarian government by the eastern European country’s President Janos Ader during a meeting in Budapest on Tuesday.
The prime minister said Hungary wanted the EU to judge Cambodia fairly on EBA.
“The Hungarian president said with Cambodia being a friend of Hungary, the Hungarian government continues to support the Kingdom, especially regarding EBA,” Hun Sen said on his official Facebook page on Tuesday.
The prime minister also met with Czech counterpart Andrej Babis in Prague on Monday as part of a five-day trip to eastern and central Europe.
Hun Sen was in Bulgaria on Wednesday to meet with senior government figures.
Czech Prime Minister Babis told Hun Sen that he believed discussions would resolve the EBA issue.
“With regards to EBA withdrawal by the European Commission, the Czech Republic holds the view that [the agreement] is a very important tool, and Cambodia has a positive stance regarding human rights.
“We believe that the EU will discuss this issue and we will resolve it,” Babis said.
A European Commission source told The Post on Wednesday that the official decision regarding EBA withdrawal would be announced in February.
“The European Commission and the European External Action Service are currently working on the preliminary report of the findings while maintaining close contact with the Cambodian authorities, who will formally be invited to react to this before the formal conclusion of the procedure.
“The final outcome will be officially adopted and published in the Official Journal in February next year.
“Throughout the process, the Cambodian authorities have been made aware of the progress that is needed as regards human rights and labour rights concerns, in order for Cambodia to maintain preferential trade access to the European Union,” the source said.
Meanwhile, the European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham) in Cambodia reiterated its concerns over the possible loss of EBA.
On Wednesday, EuroCham said the withdrawal of EBA would affect the EU’s long-term business interests in Cambodia.
EuroCham said it had requested a meeting with the European Commission’s Commissioner of Commerce Cecilia Malmstrom to assess the impact of EBA suspension and to express the concerns of the European private sector.
“We still hope to have further negotiations to find a better way to respond to the EU’s concerns,” EuroCham said.
It said it had called for a meeting with Malmstrom during the upcoming Asia-Europe Summit in Brussels and to request that its members participate in the evaluation process.
“EuroCham’s members are greatly experienced and are in a very good position to provide factual information about the situation in Cambodia, so we should have the opportunity to participate in discussions to evaluate the process of suspending or revoking the EBA agreement,” EuroCham said.
It said the approach will ensure the EU has a complete and accurate assessment of the economic environment in Cambodia.
The suspension of EBA or any short-term unilateral sanctions, it said, could have long-term negative impacts, and would not be effective in improving democratic processes.
“In the case of a suspension of EBA in Cambodia, it would be contrary to the EU’s trade agenda, and its commitment to integrating developing countries into the world trade economy.
“It would also be against European principles of using trade as a key factor for the spread of democratic values,” EuroCham said.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have both said a suspension of the EBA would impede Cambodia’s economic growth.
However, both international financial institutions have maintained growth projections of seven per cent for the Cambodian economy this year, with a slight slowdown next year.
Jarkko Turunen, a Deputy Division Chief at the IMF, said last week that the Cambodian government is being proactive in addressing the risks of uncertainty caused by trade tensions and the possible withdrawal of EBA through structural reforms to enhance competition and diversification.
EuroCham in Cambodia represents 335 businesses from France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland that together employ more than 50,000 people.