Paying the price for human rights violations . . .
The European Union (EU) is expected to partially suspend Cambodia’s preferential access to European markets under the Everything But Arms (EBA) program. EBA grants duty- and quota-free access (for everything but weapons) to 47 Least Developed Countries (LDCs), provided they meet basic human rights standards. The decision comes as no surprise: the EU gave Phnom Penh a one-year warning after Cambodia’s government dissolved the main opposition party, arrested and tried its leader for treason, and shut down independent media outlets. Those moves cleared the way for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to win all 125 parliamentary seats in the 2018 elections. The EBA suspension is expected to take effect on August 12, and will impact an estimated C$7.2 billion worth of Cambodian exports.
Test case . . .
The EU is proceeding with some caution over concerns about how the decision could impact some 10,000 Cambodian workers in the garment industry – an industry on which Cambodia’s export-oriented economy is very dependent. About 80 per cent of these workers are women, and many of them send remittance payments to their families in rural areas. Cambodia is seen a test case for whether removing such trade preferences does in fact improve human rights conditions without causing excessive harm. President Hun Sen has been dismissive and even defiant of the EU’s warnings. It may be something he comes to regret, especially as exports to China, Cambodia’s other large trading partner, are likely to decline as China takes an economic hit from the coronavirus outbreak.
Clues for Canada . . .
There may be other cases in Southeast Asia to watch. In late 2018, the EU began reviewing the case of Myanmar, which has been accused of genocide against the country’s Rohingya minority. Meanwhile, however, the EU has green-lighted a free trade agreement with Vietnam, another country that would likely not meet the human rights standards that are at the heart of the EBA program. How the EU’s Cambodia decision plays out could offer lessons for Canada in how to pursue a values-based trade policy.
- Al Jazeera: EU to suspend some of Cambodia trade benefits over human rights
- The Diplomat: EU confronts make or break decisions for Vietnam and Cambodia
- Nikkei Asian Review: EU to end privileges on some Cambodia exports: Lawmaker