Two US senators introduce Cambodian Trade Act of 2019 bill

January 19, 2019 - Cambodia

Two US senators recently introduced the Cambodian Trade Act of 2019 bill, requiring re-examination of Cambodia’s eligibility to access the preferential trade treatment under the general system of preferences (GSP). While Phnom Penh allayed any associated fears, a garment industry representative said the step misrepresents the progress made in working conditions.

A joint release by US senators Ted Cruz and Chris Coons said Cambodia should not enjoy special trade privileges as it undermines democracy, ignores labour standards, disregards human rights and fails to protect intellectual property.

During his 34-year reign, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has shown disdain for the rule of law and basic freedoms, the release said. Sen has exploited preferential treatment afforded to Cambodia by the United States and Europe and has failed to meet basic labour rights standards, undermined the integrity of national elections and tilted towards China, the release said.

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

Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia deputy secretary-general Kang Monica, however, said the GSP privileges are often quite limited in practice.

The United States 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, a Cambodian newspaper quoted Monica as saying.

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

He added that since a 2001 agreement with the United States, the country 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. (DS)