On 12 February 2020, the European Commission announced that it has decided to withdraw part of the tariff preferences granted to Cambodia under the European Union’s Everything But Arms’ (EBA) trade scheme due to the serious and systematic violations of the human rights principles enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In a news release, the Commission stated that:
The withdrawal of tariff preferences – and their replacement with the EU’s standard tariffs (most favoured nation MFN) – will affect selected garment and footwear products, and all travel goods and sugar. The withdrawal amounts to around one-fifth or €1 billion of Cambodia’s yearly exports to the EU. Unless the European Parliament and the Council object, this will take effect on 12 August 2020.
The Commission’s decision addresses the human rights violations that triggered the procedure, while at the same time preserving the development objective of the EU trade scheme. It recognises the need to continue to support Cambodia’s economic development and diversification of its exports. All emerging industries in Cambodia will continue to enjoy duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market. High value-added garments and certain types of footwear will also continue to enjoy duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market.
The Commission’s decision follows in-depth engagement with the Cambodian government and stakeholders. In particular, during the last twelve months, the Commission and the European External Action Service conducted fact-finding missions to Cambodia and held several meetings with the Cambodian authorities at both technical and political levels.
With regard to civil and political rights, there has been no significant progress since the launch of the EBA withdrawal procedure in February 2019.
The Commission nevertheless recognises the steps taken by the Cambodian authorities, notably in the areas of labour rights and land rights. Serious concerns remain however, including in particular the unresolved civil and criminal cases against trade unionists.
*** The Commission and the European External Action Service will continue their engagement with the Cambodian authorities and monitor the human rights and labour rights situation in the country closely. In case Cambodia shows significant progress, notably on civil and political rights, the Commission may review its decision and reinstate tariff preferences under the EBA arrangement.