Sanctions and the EU

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Rice seller near Phnom Penh Railway Station. Hong Menea

Has the EU just shot itself in the foot? The EU has been threatening to sanction Cambodia, for not conducting its elections as it was told to do, by withdrawing tariff exemptions under the Everything But Arms agreement.

But then, on January 16, the European Commission announced it was going to start imposing tariffs on Cambodian rice.

The reason? Nothing to do with elections, sanctions, arms or the like. No – it was only to protect European rice “producers” (in reality, probably not the producers but the big agribusinesses that exploit the real producers).

The move was in response to “a significant increase” of Cambodian (and Myanmar) rice imports into Europe. One might have thought that the aim of tariff exemptions was to allow an increase of imports of the relevant commodity. Clearly, such a view is naive.

The real aim is to portray the EU as magnanimously trying to help less developed countries – on the condition that doing so not impinge on the interests of anyone in Europe who matters. Your products can be tariff-free unless an EU competitor complains.

The European Commission statement says that the new import tax will be gradually reduced over three years. That will happen unless the EC changes its mind. For example, if the tax hasn’t sufficiently reduced Cambodian and Myanmar imports by then, it could be extended, or even increased, just as arbitrarily as the way in which it has just been imposed. Western “aid” tends to be like that.

So the message from the EU is this: Don’t do as you’re told and you’ll lose our “assistance”. Or do as you’re told and you’ll still lose our “assistance” when we feel like it.

It rather reduces the effectiveness of the sanctions threat, doesn’t it?

Allen Myers,
Phnom Penh

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The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.