Since 2011 under the EBA, Cambodia has benefited from duty-free EU access for exports of all products, except arms and ammunition; the EBA aims to support the economic development of least developed countries and their integration into the global trading system. This has led to increased investment in Cambodia’s sugar sector, causing serious human rights abuses and deforestation. In 2017, 40 per cent of Cambodia’s sugar exports went to the EU. To fuel the sugar boom, the government of Cambodia handed companies concessions that overlapped with farmers and community-owned lands and natural resources.
Affected communities called on the EU to suspend preferential access for Cambodian sugar, and there have been numerous reports that sugar concession-holders were forcing thousands of rural people off their land. The European Parliament issued an urgent resolution in 2012 calling on the Commission to investigate human rights abuses and to suspend EBA preferences on agricultural products from Cambodia in cases where human rights abuses had been identified.
A delegation of the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) visited Cambodia in July 2018 to evaluate the situation. Following this fact-finding mission and a period of enhanced engagement, the Commission concluded that there was “evidence of serious and systematic violations of core human and labour rights in Cambodia, in particular of the rights to political participation as well as of the freedoms of assembly, expression and association. These findings add to the longstanding EU concerns about the lack of workers’ rights and disputes linked to economic land concessions in the country.”
Cambodia must now bring its practices in line with its obligations under the core United Nations and International Labour Organisation Conventions. After twelve months, the Commission will conclude the procedure with a final decision on whether to withdraw tariff preferences.