PHNOM PENH, June 6 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn on Thursday met here with Jean-Christophe Belliard, deputy secretary general at the European External Action Service, to discuss the issue of the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade preferences, a Cambodian government spokesman said.
The European Union (EU) started in February the 18-month process that could lead to the temporary suspension of Cambodia's duty-free trading access to the EU market under the EBA scheme due to concerns over human rights and labor rights.
During the meeting, Sokhonn thanked the EU for having supported Cambodia's socio-economic development for more than 20 years and said that Cambodia would try its best to maintain the EBA, according to Cambodian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ket Sophann.
"The government would spare no effort to keep the EBA, but we have our own red line: Cambodia would not exchange its sovereignty and independence for the EBA," the spokesman quoted Sokhonn as saying to Belliard.
Both sides agreed to continue dialogues in order to find out a solution to retain the EBA for Cambodia, the spokesman said.
It was the second time that the EU sent its fact-finding team to Cambodia for the EBA issue.
The EU is a major trading partner for Cambodia, particularly for garment and footwear sector, which employs about 700,000 people.
As a Least Developed Country, Cambodia has enjoyed exports of all products, except arms and ammunition, to the EU market with zero percent tariff since 2001.
According to a World Bank report released last month, Cambodia exported products worth 4.67 billion U.S. dollars to the European market in 2018, accounting for more than one-third of Cambodia's total exports.
If the EBA is withdrawn, tariffs on garment, footwear, and bicycle products will increase 12 percent, 16 percent and 10 percent, respectively, the World Bank report said.
Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen announced in March a number of measures, including cutting production and export costs, to support local manufacturers and exporters in case the EU striped the EBA scheme from the kingdom.
He said the measures would help reduce operating costs for producers and exporters by about 400 million dollars per year.