EU team on ground for EBA review
Phnom Pheh: Senior government officials met with a European Union delegation yesterday to discuss the Kingdom’s Everything-but-arms preferential trade status, with both sides vowing to work together to prevent the revocation of the EBA.
The EU team, led by Paola Pampaloni, deputy director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Section Service, yesterday held meetings with Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn and Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ket Sophann said that both the EU delegation and Mr Sokhonn are committed to working together to iron out issues so that the EBA will be retained.
“[The meetings] do mean that both Cambodia and the EU delegation want to keep the EBA status,” Mr Sophann said.
The EBA review is being conducted by the EU due to perceived democratic and human rights setbacks after the Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition party and banned its senior members from politics.
The government has made moves to appease the EU and prevent revocation of the EBA by paving the way for banned former opposition party members to return to the political arena, but the move was not deemed enough.
Reached by email, EU Ambassador George Edgar said: “I can confirm that the visiting delegation met Deputy Prime Ministers Sar Kheng and Prak Sokhonn, and Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak. They discussed EBA and other issues. I am afraid I cannot give further details.”
Mr Sokhonn said that the EBA is very important for Cambodia, especially for garment workers, Mr Sophann said.
“The meeting discussed EBA procedures and both parties are committed not to have the EBA lost,” Mr Sophann said.
“The EU delegation [Ms Paola] stressed that this dialogue is to set up a roadmap to be followed during the review on the EBA so that we can understand each other, especially over concerns raised by the EU,” Mr Sophann said.
“The discussion was not confrontational. It was a constructive dialogue,” he added. “They did not come to pressure us.”
When asked if Kem Sokha was discussed in the meeting, Mr Sophann said: “There was no discussion or request to release [Mr Sokha].”
He said that another EU delegation is scheduled to visit Cambodia over the EBA review in May or June.
Yesterday, Ms Paola also met with Mr Kheng at the Interior Ministry, highlighting progressive political space and registration of NGOs in Cambodia, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Phat Sophanith.
Mr Kheng said the government considered NGOs as partners to develop the country.
“The government always considers the NGOs as development partners as it has held forums to discuss issues with them,” Mr Sophanith quoted Mr Kheng as saying.
Ms Paola concurred that there is an improved promotion of rights and participation of civil society groups as stressed by Mr Kheng, according to Mr Sophanith.
“She was very happy with what the government had done in the past concerning political space and NGO participation,” Mr Sophanith said. “She asked the government to try to do more so that all relevant parties can join together to develop Cambodia.”
“The EU delegation’s visit is not involved with the EBA removal from Cambodia but we come to work and hold a dialogue to find a solution to enhance cooperation between the EU and Cambodia,” Mr Sophanith quoted Ms Paola as saying.
“Samdech Sar Kheng said that even though Cambodia’s democracy is not perfect, its democratic foundation has deeply rooted. Cambodia cannot abandon a democracy. The important thing is a multi-party system stipulated in Cambodia’s constitution,” Mr Sophanith said.
“Samdech [Mr Kheng] hopes the visiting EU delegation will find a joint resolution beneficial for both Cambodian people and the EU,” he said.