PHNOM PENH, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen said on Saturday that the European Union (EU) is holding the country's 16-million population "hostage" by threatening to withdraw trade preferences for the kingdom.
The Cambodian prime minister made the remarks during a meeting with former Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen's personal assistant Eang Sophalleth told reporters after the meeting.
Hun Sen said it would be another EU's mistake if it imposed sanctions on Cambodia through withdrawing the Everything But Arms (EBA) preferential trade scheme, according to Sophalleth.
The EU announced in October last year that Cambodia could lose its special trade access to the European markets under the EBA preferences, citing concerns over human rights and labor rights in the country.
The EU would take at least 18 months to decide whether to withdraw the EBA preferences for Cambodia or not.
EU is a major trading partner for Cambodia, especially for textiles and footwear sector. As a Least Developed Country, Cambodia has enjoyed exports of all products, except arms and ammunition, to the European markets with duty-free for decades.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said in a statement in October last year that over 46 percent of Cambodia's total exports of apparel and footwear are to the EU.
He said the garment and footwear sector employed around 700,000 workers and another 2 million out of the kingdom's total population of 16 million also economically depended on the sector.
"A temporary suspension of the EBA or any short-term unilateral sanctions may have long-term negative impacts on the lives of our workers and their families," he said.