The Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Prak Sokhonn, held a bilateral meeting with Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, in Bangkok on Thursday to discuss the bloc’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ket Sophann said Sokhonn met Mogherini on the sidelines of the 52nd Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Related Meetings in the Thai capital.
Sophann declined to comment on what specifically was raised at the meeting, but on Tuesday Mogherini confirmed to Nikkei Asian Review that she and Sokhonn had discussed the EBA.
In February, the EU launched a six-month period of intensive monitoring and engagement to determine whether to partially or fully withdraw Cambodia’s preferential access to EBA, citing “concerns over Cambodia’s record against core human rights and labour rights conventions”.
The process is set to end in the coming weeks, and if EBA access is withdrawn it would see Cambodia paying tariffs on its exports into the bloc at an estimated cost to the economy of $676 million in taxes.
The EU has said Cambodia was the second largest beneficiary of EBA last year, with its goods accounting for more than 18 per cent of all imports into the single market under the agreement.
Exports from Cambodia to the EU totalled €5.3 billion ($5.8 billion) last year, with more than 95 per cent included in EBA, of which €4 billion was in clothing and textiles – two industries which are set to be the hardest hit.
Outgoing EU Ambassador to Cambodia George Edgar told The Post via email on Thursday that from August 12 the European Commission would prepare its conclusions following the end of the six-month period of monitoring and engagement.
“Within three months, the Commission will share those conclusions with the Cambodian authorities, who will have one month to respond. Following that, a decision will be taken by the Commission whether to suspend some or all of the Kingdom’s preferences under the EBA trade regime,” Edgar said.
Ou Chanrath, a former lawmaker with the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), on Thursday said to the maintain Cambodia’s EBA access, there should be compromises from both sides.
“In the run-up to the EU’s decision, I think there will be some reversal of the [political] situation [by the Cambodian government], but not everything the EU has demanded.
“I can frankly say that the demand to reinstate the CNRP is not possible. But Cambodia can take some steps back to avoid pressure from the EU.
“I see some possibilities, such as releasing CNRP president Kem Sokha, as something that both sides can accept.
“And with respect to the positions of the CNRP’s commune councillors, I think there should be an amendment to the law allowing the elected councillors to get their positions back by just joining any legitimate political party,” Chanrath said.
Chanrath said other EU demands, such as the reform of the National Election Committee, were only secondary and not a top priority for either side.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Sokhonn should take the opportunity to convey to Mogherini on new initiatives the government is taking, if any, concerning avoiding the withdrawal of EBA.