US sen­a­tors call for GSP trade priv­i­lege cut

The Phnom Penh Post - - FRONT PAGE - Hor Kim­say

TWO US sen­a­tors onWed­nes­day in­tro­duced the Cam­bo­dian Trade Act of 2019 bill, re­quir­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re-ex­am­ine Cam­bo­dia’s el­i­gi­bil­ity to ac­cess the pref­er­en­tial trade treat­ment granted by the US un­der the Gen­eral Sys­tem of Preferences (GSP).

A Cam­bo­dian govern­ment spokesman said the move was noth­ing to worry about, while a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the King­dom’s gar­ment in­dus­try said the call to re-eval­u­ate Cam­bo­dia’s GSP sta­tus is wrong as it mis­rep­re­sents the progress made in work­ing con­di­tions.

The joint re­lease by US sen­a­tors Ted Cruz and Chris Coons on Wednesday said Cam­bo­dia should not en­joy spe­cial trade priv­i­leges as it un­der mines d e moc­racy, ig­nores labour stan­dards, dis­re­gards hu­man rights and fails to pro­tect in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.

The re­lease added that dur­ing his 34-year reign, Cambo- dia’s Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen has shown dis­dain for the r ul e o f l a w and bas i c free­doms.

“I ques­tion whether Cam­bo­dia should have pref­er­en­tial ac­cess to US mar­kets,” said Coons.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­lease, Hun Sen has ex­ploited pref­er­en­tial treat­ment af­forded to Cam­bo­dia by the US and Europe and has failed to meet ba­sic labour rights stan­dards, un­der­mined the in­tegrity of na­tional elec­tions and tilted to­wards China.

“The Cam­bo­dian Trade Act aims to hold him and his govern­ment accountable for this be­hav­iour and re­in­forces the steps our Euro­pean part­ners are tak­ing,” it read.

Spokesper­son for the US em­bassy in Cam­bo­dia Emily Zee­berg was not avail­able for com­ment on Thursday.

T he bi l l w i l l t a ke some t i me to be­come law a nd will need to un­dergo sev­eral pro­ce­dures.

A f ter it s i nt rod­uct ion, it wi l l eit her be ac­cepted or re­jec ted by a com­mit tee be­fore goi ng t h roug h t he se­nate. It will also need to go t hroug h cong ress de­bates and win ap­proval from the US pres­i­dent.

The US is among Cam­bo­dia’s big­gest ex­port mar­kets af­ter the Euro­pean bloc and cur­rently en­joys some trade priv­i­leges of­fered by the US un­der the GSP.

But ac­cord­ing to the Gar­ment Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion in Cam­bo­dia deputy s e c r e t a r y- g e n e r a l K a n g

Mon­ica, the GSP priv­i­leges are of­ten quite lim­ited in prac­tice.

He said the US has granted GSP priv­i­leges to Cam­bo­dia for 85 per cent of cus­toms tar­iff lines, but most Cam­bo­dian prod­ucts ex­ported to the US mar­ket – such as gar­ment and footwear – are among the 15 per cent that are re­quired to pay cus­toms tax.

It was only af­ter July 2016, when the US govern­ment re­viewed the GSP’s tar­iff list to Cam­bo­dia, that the King­dom could ex­port goods to the US mar­ket duty free, he said.

Re­gard­less, Mon­ica said the sen­a­tors’ pro­posal to re-ex­am­ine Cam­bo­dia’s el­i­gi­bil­ity for pref­er­en­tial trade was un­fair and failed to recog­nise the progress the King­dom’s labour sec­tor had made.

Ac­cord­ing to Mon­ica, the King­dom’s work­ing con­di­tions have vastly im­proved as work­ers now en­joy an­nual wage in­creases with ben­e­fits. In ad­di­tion to wage in­creases, he said work­ers are now able to get so­cial se­cu­rity funds, in­clud­ing oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ard in­sur­ance, health in­sur­ance and pen­sion funds.

“Their as­sess­ment that Cam­bo­dia failed to meet the ba­sic labour rights stan­dards we think is very un­fair. It doesn’t re­flect the re­al­ity on the ground,” he said.

He added that since a 2001 agree­ment with the US, the King­dom has im­ple­mented a labour con­di­tion im­prove­ment-linked trade pol­icy, which brought about the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s (ILO) Bet­ter Fac­to­ries Cam­bo­dia (BFC) mon­i­tor­ing pro­gramme.

“The ILO is a spe­cialised arm of the UN work­ing on en­sur­ing work­ing con­di­tions and, ac­cord­ing to BFC’s reg­u­lar re­ports, the sit­u­a­tion has con­tin­u­ously im­proved. If Cam­bo­dia failed to meet ba­sic labour rights stan­dards, how is the ex­is­tence of ILO-BFC jus­ti­fied?

“I be­lieve that the ma­jor­ity of US sen­a­tors will pro­vide jus­tice for Cam­bo­dia by pro­vid­ing an as­sess­ment based on the ac­tual work that Cam­bo­dia has done in im­prov­ing work­ing con­di­tions and work­ers’ rights,” he said.

Govern­ment spokesman Phay Siphan on Thursday said the govern­ment will not take an in­ter­est in the is­sue, say­ing the govern­ment al­ways con­sid­ers hu­man rights a pri­or­ity.

“Warn­ing the King­dom is just to show the sen­a­tors’ mus­cles. But, for Cam­bo­dia it is noth­ing to worry about at all.

“The pol­icy of the [US] pres­i­dent, who holds ex­ec­u­tive power, is to never fol­low a small group of sen­a­tors. I think the US pres­i­dent clearly un­der­stands [the sit­u­a­tion] as he need as all the na­tions of the world as [friends],” he said.


Work­ers bun­dle pack­aged goods into plas­tic bags at the LYLY Food In­dus­try Co Ltd fac­tory in Ph­nom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district in 2015.


US Se­na­tor Ted Cruz (left) speaks while flanked by Se­na­tor Chris Coons dur­ing a Ju­di­ciary Sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing on the Af­ford­able Care Act on Capi­tol Hill in 2015 in Wash­ing­ton, DC.

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