The private sector and workers associations have expressed disappointment at the EU’s recent decision to partially withdraw the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme awarded to Cambodia.
The Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, the European Chamber of Commerce, and the American Chamber of Commerce, together with several other private sector organisations and companies, issued a press release on Friday calling the decision “regrettable,” but pointing out that it should be viewed as an opportunity.
The chambers of commerce and the companies said they were committed to working with those most affected by the decision and will continue to liaise closely with international brands and development partners to strengthen and promote the values of human and labour rights in Cambodia.
They said the private sector viewed the decision of the European Commission (EC) as an opportunity to initiate further reforms that strengthen legal compliance and reduce unfair competition apart from accelerating the diversification of the economy, export markets and sources of investment.
“Looking forward, Cambodia will continue to benefit from trade preferences for 80 per cent of its exports to the European Union. Therefore, we respectfully call on the EC and the Royal Government of Cambodia to continue to engage in dialogue on the issues raised by the EC’s review,” it said.
The press release said over the last year, the government has undertaken extensive structural reforms to eliminate unnecessary burdens and improve trade facilitation.
The projected negative impact of this partial withdrawal can be offset by these reforms if they are properly enforced and combined with fiscal stimulus from the government, it said.
Meanwhile, the Union Federation for Worker Security, the Union Federation for Labour Rights and the National Labour Confederation of Cambodia expressed dismay over the decision by the European bloc.
The National Labour Confederation of Cambodia, which represents about 36,000 workers, said the decision was not in line with the remarkable progress in human and labour rights.
“When considering other trading partners of the European Union, we believe the decision to partially withdraw the EBA is based on double standards and is politically motivated.
“This biased decision and the failure to consider the actual situation in Cambodia have affected the interests and livelihoods of Cambodian workers,” the statement said.
Sam Rainsy, the acting president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, said on Facebook that the EU’s decision was a “blessing in disguise,” as it represents a powerful call for reform.
“Cambodia must upgrade the health, education and social affairs systems as well as all public services,” he said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the government was prepared for the withdrawal of trade preferences in the EU and will not lose the European market.
“The government has carried out sweeping reforms to reduce costs for the private sector and facilitate customs procedures,” he said.