The EU

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 encouraged 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.”
As a direct result of the EBA initiative, Cambodian sugar exports went from negligible before 2009 to 64,917 tones in 2013, with virtually all of it shipped to the EU.

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 serious and widespread human rights abuses have been committed in connection with economic land concessions, including those for sugarcane plantations.

Since 2011, Clean Sugar Campaign coalition members and more than 50,000 petition signatories have called upon the European Commission to initiate an investigation into serious and systematic human rights abuses connected to the Cambodian sugar industry and revoke its trade preferences.

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.”

Correspondence between EU and Clean Sugar Campaign 

Letter to High Representative Federica Mogherini from Clean Sugar Campaign coalition members (27 November 2014)

Response from Commissioner de Gucht (20 December 2013)

Letter to Commissioner de Gucht from Clean Sugar Campaign coalition members (06 November 2013)

Letter from European Parliamentarians to Commissioner de Gucht and High Representative Ashton (21 March 2013)

Letter to Commissioner de Gucht from Cambodian and International CSOs (01 October 2012)

Reply from Commissioner de Gucht to Cambodian and International CSO Joint Letter (14 August 2012)

Letter to Commissioner de Gucht from Cambodian and International CSOs (26 June 2012)

Letter to Commissioner de Gucht from Cecilia Wikstrom MEP (20 June 2011)

Reply to Cecilia Wikstrom MEP from Commissioner de Gucht (25 July 2011)

Letter to Commissioner de Gucht from Heidi Hautala MEP, Chairwoman of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights (26 January 2011)

Reply to Heidi Hautala from Catherine Ashton, High Representative, Vice-President of the European Commission (08 March 2011)

Letter from Cambodian CSOs to Commissioner de Gucht (07 January 2011)

Reply from Commissioner de Gucht to Cambodian CSOs (09 February 2011)


Related News 

Clean Sugar Campaign Public Statement:  Inception of Cambodian ‘blood sugar’ reparations process a crucial step towards justice (7 December 2014)

“Report Says EU’s Trade Scheme is Impoverishing Villagers” by Simon Henderson, Cambodia Daily (19 September 2013) 

“EU under fire for policy linked to land grabbing in Cambodia” by Thin Lei Win, Thompson Reuters Foundation (17 September 2013)

“Europe Adopts Resolution on Cambodian Rights Situation” by Zsomber Peter, Cambodia Daily (29 October 2012)

“EU may partially suspend trade agreement with Cambodia” by Stuart White, Phnom Penh Post (29 October 2012)