PHNOMPENH (Reuters) – Cambodia’s foreign ministry on Thursday said a decision by the European Union to ramp up trade pressure on Cambodia over human rights concerns was an “extreme injustice”, adding it risked destroying decades of development progress in the country.
The European Union last week said Cambodia would lose its special access to the world’s largest trading bloc as a response to human rights concerns surrounding a July election which extended Prime Minister Hun Sen’s three decade rule.
“The Cambodian government can only take this decision as an extreme injustice when the EU blatantly disregards the considerable progress made by the country, despite its recent tragic past,” Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Thursday.
“By implementing these withdrawal measures, the European Commission risks negating twenty year’s worth of development efforts,” it added.
The EU announced that Cambodia would lose its special access to European markets under the so-called Everything But Arms (EBA) preferential trade scheme after it conducts a six-month review of Cambodia’s duty-free status.
Cambodia emerged from decades of war and the genocidal Khmer Rouge years in the early 1990s.
Over the past two decades it has been the world’s sixth fastest-growing economy, with average GDP growth rate of 7.6 percent, according to the World Bank, largely due to its garment exports which are mostly bound for the EU and the United States.
Cambodia’s exports to the European Union were worth 5 billion euros (4.37 billion pounds) last year, according to EU data, up from negligible levels less than a decade ago, with the EU using its trade policy to help develop Cambodia’s economy.
Rights groups said the July general election was not fair because of the lack of a credible opposition.
The main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved by the country’s Supreme Court at the government’s request last year and did not take part in the election.
Following the CNRP dissolution Hun Sen’s allies ramped up a crackdown against critics, including opposition politicians and independent media.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Michael Perry)