Cambodia’s Garment Sector Faces Still Price Competition From Vietnam and Myanmar

A group of humanitarian organizations have sent an open letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to pressure the Cambodian government to end “repression, human rights abuses, and impunity.” Mr. Kerry is scheduled to arrive in the country today and will meet tomorrow with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong to discuss the upcoming US-ASEAN trade summit in California.

According to a US State Department press release, the meeting will focus on strengthening the economic relationship between Cambodia and the United States. The letter urges Mr. Kerry to use the US’s economic influence to promote stronger human rights protections in the country. “Economic relations will grow stronger and last only if the Cambodian government takes immediate steps to uphold democratic principles,” it said.

Some of the largest NGOs in the country signed the letter, including Licadho, Adhoc, and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).
It highlights political repression in the country, from the beatings of two Cambodia National Rescue Party National Assembly (CNRP) members, to the arrest warrants issued for CNRP leader Sam Rainsy on defamation charges.

“We urge you to demand an immediate end to the government’s acts of intimidation, judicial harassment, and violence against opposition officials,” it said.

Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of the CCHR, said that the US has the diplomatic clout to push for the protection of human rights.

“Diplomatic pressure applied by the United States can and does have an enormous impact around the world,” she said, “so the extent of the United States’ impact on the current human rights situation in Cambodia can be significant.”

Facing stiff economic competition from its neighbors in Southeast Asia, the Cambodian government has been pushing for a more favorable trade deal with the US. Though the US allows duty-free imports on many of the country’s products, Cambodia’s largest export, garments, continue to be taxed. Analysts said this will likely be on the agenda for next month’s discussion at the US-ASEAN trade summit.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party is optimistic that political issues will not affect Cambodia’s trade relationship with the US “Cambodia would urge the US to look into the possibility of investment in Cambodia to improve economic development by cooperating with us in the tourism and property sectors,” said Sok Ey San, spokesman for the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition CNRP, said that opposition lawmakers, including the party’s deputy leader Kem Sokha, will also get the chance to meet with Mr. Kerry during his brief visit to the country, though he did not yet know the time or place. While Mr. Sovann said the economy was high on their list of priorities, he said that they would also discuss the barriers to free and fair elections in Cambodia.

“We will talk about the political situation, and about democracy, human rights, and economy,” he said. “We will discuss the environment that could lead to a free and fair election.”

With the 2018 election approaching, Mr. Sopheap said that it is necessary to push for better protections for human rights now. “The prospects for a peaceful and democratic Cambodia after 2018 are diminishing rapidly,” she said, “and over the next two years a focused diplomatic effort from the international community is required in order to safeguard democracy.”


Source: Khmer Times

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