The European Union and the Everything But Arms Initiative
Cambodian sugar exports to the EU currently benefit from special status under a preferential trade scheme called Everything But Arms (EBA). This initiative permits goods produced in Cambodia to be exported to the EU without import duties or quotas and, in the case of sugar, at a guaranteed minimum price.
It is apparent that the EBA initiative is encouraging the rapid expansion of the Cambodian sugar industry:
- The CEO of KSL told Reuters “All of the production from Laos and Cambodia will be for export to Europe under the EBA import tariff privilege,”
- A Mitr Pohl representative told the Bangkok Post that it plans to expand sugar production into Cambodia in order to benefit from the EBA status of the country.
- In an article about the EBA initiative, Mr. Heng San, assistant to Senator Ly Yong Phat, told the Cambodia Daily: “These duty-free imports will reduce costs…and we can compete with Asian countries and the other sugar-producing countries. We would have difficulties if we didn’t have these duty free imports.”
In 2010, the EU Charge d’Affairs in Cambodia, Rafael Dochao Moreno, dismissed any connection between the EBA initiative and human rights violations in Cambodia, telling Radio Australia News:
It’s like accusing for instance, where there’s a drunk driver killing a pedestrian, you accuse the manufacturers of cars of this killing … There is a relation, because the car has killed a person, but it is not a direct responsibility of someone that is manufacturing cars… What we cannot do at a European Union level is to say, ‘Well, we are going to stop Everything But Arms, that is benefiting the whole of Cambodia because in a specific area in a land economic concession … an abuse has been committed with the people in that area’.
A more accurate analogy is that the European Union is selling cars without brakes. Rather than benefiting the poor, as EBA is intended, the initiative is fuelling the expansion of an industry implicated in gross human rights abuses, while perversely rewarding tycoons like Ly Yong Phat and his affiliated companies, which have dispossessed and impoverished local communities across the country. Although there are human rights safeguard provisions within European trade regulations, the “brakes” have not been applied in Cambodia where abuses are widespread.
Gross human rights abuses are in fact legal grounds for suspension of preferential treatment. EC Council Regulation No 732/2008 (the GSP Regulation) requires “the suspension of preferential arrangements, in respect of all or of certain products originating in a beneficiary country, where it considers that there is sufficient evidence that temporary withdrawal would be justified.” Among the justifications for suspension are “serious and systematic violations of principles” laid down in international human rights conventions, on the basis of the conclusions of the relevant monitoring bodies.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia have both concluded that forced evictions and other serious human rights abuses have been committed in connection with economic land concessions, including those for sugarcane plantations.
Civil society organizations in Cambodia and Europe, as well as members of the European Parliament, have written to EU Trade Commissioner Karl de Gucht calling upon him to request consultations within the Trade Committee about investigating allegations of serious and systematic human rights abuses connected to the Cambodian sugar industry. The Commission has thus far declined to undertake such consultations, despite a clear requirement in the GSP Regulation to do so upon receiving information that may justify an investigation.
On 26 October 2012, the European Parliament passed an urgent resolution calling upon the Commission to “investigate the escalation of human rights abuses in Cambodia as a result of economic land concessions being granted for agro-industrial development linked to the export of agricultural goods to the European Union, and to temporarily suspend EBA preferences on agricultural products from Cambodia in cases where human rights abuses are identified.”
The Commission has yet to act.