In an effort to defuse tensions, a senior government official said Cambodia is negotiating with the European Union (EU) on the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade deal, which allows the Kingdom to export goods to the 28-member bloc tariff-free.
The EU notified Cambodia on October 5 that the Kingdom will lose its tax-free access to the EU market unless it makes “clear and demonstrable improvements” to human rights and democracy in the Kingdom.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said on Sunday that because the trading scheme involves multiple fronts, including human rights, the Cambodian negotiating team is comprised of the ministries of foreign affairs, interior, justice and commerce.
Also included in the agenda are workers’ rights and land conflicts, among others.
“The Interior Ministry is involved in work surrounding the opposition party, the Justice Ministry is involved in the decision of the Supreme Court [in dissolving the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)]. They clarify things as part of the dialogue and cooperation partners,” he said.
Siphan said the EU had based its decision to launch the process for the EBA’s withdrawal on human rights reports that do not reflect the actual on-ground situation.
This, he said, is an attempt to exert pressure on Cambodia.
“The reports that the EU has been using are the ones from a number of international organisations and the UN special representative. They do not reflect the reality in Cambodia. So we bring each issue for discussion,” he said.
He said the government maintains its position to protect workers’ interests and Cambodia’s sovereignty as an independent country throughout the talks.
On the political front, Siphan said both parties are also discussing the issue of the former CNRP.
“We are talking. But our stance is to comply with the Cambodian constitution and follow the rule of law,” he said.
Siphan said the EU’s launch of the process withdrawing the EBA is not a sanction but merely a suspension of the preferential scheme.
Political analyst Meas Nee said the government’s willingness to turn to negotiations with the EU is a positive sign that could pave the way for a political compromise.
He said the EBA’s withdrawal will have a major impact on the Cambodian economy.
“I think by starting the dialogue, the government is placing its focus on national interests as the ones who are affected [by the EBA withdrawal] are not politicians, the Cambodian People’s Party, nor the CNRP. It’s the Cambodian people who will be affected.
“If there is a negotiation, there must be a solution. It’s just that both parties need to soften their stance to find a compromise without making each other lose face too much. I think the ongoing political crisis has been caused by nothing but a power struggle,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Foreign Affairs Ministry called the launch of the EU’s process for the EBA’s withdrawal an extreme injustice with blatant disregard for considerable progress made by the government.
The ministry said the Kingdom had made tremendous efforts in conforming to numerous international conventions linked to the EBA scheme, particularly in the areas of labour and land rights.