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EU to pull Cambodia trade privileges over human rights concerns

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A deadline to pull trade privileges from Cambodia is Wednesday. File Photo by Patrick Seeger/EPA-EFE
A deadline to pull trade privileges from Cambodia is Wednesday. File Photo by Patrick Seeger/EPA-EFE

Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Cambodia is bracing for the European Union to take away trade privileges on Wednesday over human rights concerns about how its government handled a political crackdown two years ago.

The 27-member bloc warned officials in Phnom Penh a year ago the nation could be at least partly suspended from the Everything But Arms, or EBA initiative, which allows Cambodia and 46 other lesser-developed nations to export all goods but weapons to the EU tax-free.

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The punishment is a response to Cambodia's move two years ago to arrest opposition leader Kem Sokha, as well as activists and journalists, on accusations of treason. Sokha's party eventually dissolved while he was in custody.

After the crackdown, the government's ruling party won all seats in Parliament.

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The deadline for the EU to revoke Cambodia's EBA privileges is Wednesday. A temporary revocation would mean Cambodia must begin paying tariffs on exports to the EU.

"It's a very early stage to make a judgment," Cambodia finance ministry spokesman Meas Soksensan said. "The final result will be coming soon, so any speculation or expectation will not be encouraged but I will say that the trade between Cambodia and EU is around $4 billion, so we would expect around $1 billion to get tariffs on."

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A document from Italian lawmaker Danilo Oscar Lancini suggested recently the European Commission does intend to revoke Cambodia's EBA rights.

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"From our side, all we can say at this point in time is that the European Commission is indeed in the process of making proposals regarding Cambodia's preferential access to the EU market," wrote European Commission press officer Kinga Malinowska.

If imposed, the suspension would take effect in August.

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