The EU "will not stand and watch as democracy is eroded," the bloc's top diplomat Josep Borrel said while announcing trade sanctions on Cambodia. The Asian country has been ruled by strongman Hun Sen for 35 years.
Brussels decided to suspend some of Cambodia's trade benefits with the EU, the bloc officials announced on Wednesday, saying that the suspension would affect to about €1 billion ($1.09 billion) of Cambodia's yearly exports to the bloc, or roughly one-fifth of its total.
The reason for the move, according to top EU diplomat Josep Borell, is to pressure Cambodia's government into fixing its record on human rights and freedom of expression.
"The European Union will not stand and watch as democracy is eroded, human rights curtailed, and free debate silenced," Borell said in a statement.
Cambodia is one of several developing nations that trades with the EU on the so-called "Everything But Arms" (EBA) terms. It allows the nation duty-free access to the EU market for everything except weapons and ammunition. The EU is Cambodia's largest trading partner. The Asian country boastsa large garment sector which employees at least 700,000 workers. The garments are a large part of Cambodia's exports to the EU, which amounted to €5.4 billion in 2018.
Certain types of shoes and high-end garments will be excluded from the latest suspension, the EU officials said on Wednesday. The decision is to go into effect in August, unless EU states of the bloc lawmakers overturn it.
'We have to try to survive'
Cambodia responded angrily to the Brussels announcement, saying that the suspension was "triggered by many misperceptions and misunderstandings about the actual realities" in the country.
The nation's leader Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, previously said that the country would "not bow its head" to EU criticism. He also said that it was more important to maintain independence and sovereignty than retaining trade privileges.
"We have to try to survive" on our own, he said on Tuesday, before the decision was announced.
Hun Sen's regime has been facing criticism over its treatment of political opponents, independent media, dissidents and trade unions. Brussels has been especially critical of the government's treatment of Hun's opponent Kem Sokha, who is currently on trial for treason after his opposition party was disbanded.
dj/msh (AP, dpa, AFP)