Garments Association Takes Legal Action Against EU Over EBA Suspension

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Garment workers in a factory in Cambodia on December 9, 2014 (ILO)

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia has filed court action against the E.U. seeking to reverse the bloc’s partial suspension of trade benefits over human rights violations.

According to a document in the E.U.’s official journal dated August 31, the association brought the action to the bloc’s court of justice on July 16, pushing to annul the decision to partially withdraw the “Everything But Arms” deal.

The association alleges that the suspension “violates the principle of proportionality and the requirement of consistency between the Union’s policies and activities,” according to the document.

The bloc also “failed to properly assess the proportionality of the partial temporary withdrawal of customs preferences for the Cambodian garments, footwear and travel goods sectors,” it says.

In addition, the E.U. failed to provide adequate reasoning for its decision, it says.

The trade deal’s suspension came into force on August 12, following an 18-month review process. In its February decision announcing the suspension, the E.U. said it found “serious and systematic violations” of human rights in Cambodia.

The government needed “to re-open the political space in the country, to create the necessary conditions for the re-establishment of a credible opposition and to initiate a democratic process of national reconciliation through genuine and inclusive dialogue,” it said.

The trade deal offers low-income countries tariff- and quota-free access to the E.U. for all goods except armaments. This year’s suspension targeted about 20 percent of Cambodia’s exports to the E.U., including some garment products.

Representatives for the garments association said they were unavailable for comment on Friday, and the E.U.’s delegation in Cambodia said it does not comment on ongoing court proceedings.

Tassilo Brinzer, chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia, said EuroCham was not involved in the association’s action.

In June, before the suspension came into force, EuroCham co-signed a letter asking the E.U. to postpone the suspension for 12 months due to industry struggles amid Covid-19.

Brinzer said the suspension was now in force and unlikely to go away.

“We just think we should move forward now and try to support the garment industry,” Brinzer said, adding that EuroCham member businesses had yet to see an impact from the suspension.

“Covid had a larger impact for sure,” he said.

Garments and footwear exports made up 74 percent of total Cambodian exports in 2019, according to National Bank figures. In 2018, the E.U. was Cambodia’s largest trading partner, accounting for 45 percent of exports, according to the bloc.

Additional reporting by Ouch Sony

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