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‘Clock ticking’, EU tells Cambodia as trade scheme under threat | Cambodia News

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia – The European Union has warned Cambodia the “clock is ticking” after it officially launched the process of suspending the country’s valuable trade privileges over rights concerns, paving the way for a move that analysts warn would be “catastrophic” to its economy.

The so-called Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme allows Cambodia to export products other than weapons to the EU at reduced tariff rates.

Revoking the favourable deal would cost Cambodia’s economy $676m, according to the Southeast Asian country’s Minister of Commerce. It would also result in expected mass layoffs in the key garment industry, which employs 800,000 people and has historically been prone to protests.

“It should be clear that today’s move is neither a final decision nor the end of the process. But the clock is now officially ticking and we need to see real action soon,” EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement announcing the decision on Monday.

The EBA, access to which has various human rights and democratic prerequisites, has been under threat since the country’s main opposition party – the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) – was dissolved and its president arrested for treason ahead of last year’s elections.

The July 2018 polls saw Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) win in a landslide an essentially unopposed vote, extending its decades-long grip on power.

“If you want the opposition dead, just cut it,” Hun Sen threatened last month during a speech commemorating his 34th year in power, lashing out at the EU over the prospect of the highly preferential scheme being revoked. The following day, an outspoken CNRP member who supports sanctions was arrested.

On Tuesday, government spokesman Phay Siphan took a softer approach. “We consider the EU not our enemy, just a partner, and we try our best to explain to them and maintain cooperation,” he told Al Jazeera.

Siphan argued, however, that Cambodia was being treated “unfairly”, accusing the EU of not recognising the country’s progress in sustaining peace and development after emerging from years of conflict and the genocidal Khmer Rouge.






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Effect of sanctions

Ear Sophal, a Cambodian-US associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College, said losing EBA would be “utterly catastrophic, but maybe that’s exactly what Phnom Penh needs: a wake-up call”.






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“Nobody wants the pain of EBA being revoked, but frankly, if you’re going to threaten to kill the opposition, you’ve come right out of central casting as a villain,” Sophal said.

Many CPP critics welcome sanctions as a vehicle to force the government to make democratic concessions or instigate protests against it. Others fear they may push the country further into China’s orbit and negatively affect some of the most vulnerable parts of Cambodia’s population.

“If the EU were to decide to suspend the EBA at the end of this process, this would certainly derail relations between Cambodia and the EU permanently,” Astrid Noren-Nilsson, a political scientist, warned.

“It is important to note that we are not there yet,” she added, urging continued dialogue and negotiations. “To have positive results, the only way forward is to engage all formal and informal channels to advance dialogue with the Cambodian government.”






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‘People held hostage’

While negotiations are ongoing, Cambodia refuses to consider reinstating the CNRP – one of the EU’s demands.

“We cannot do anything,” said Siphan, noting that the decision to dissolve the main opposition party, which almost won the country’s previous elections in 2013, was taken by the Supreme Court.

However, Cambodia consistently ranks among the worst countries in terms of judicial independence, and the courts are widely seen as a tool of Hun Sen’s government.

The withdrawal process will last 12 months according to the EU statement, including six months of “intensive monitoring and engagement with the Cambodian authorities”.

Sophal said whether or not the EBA is revoked, the economy is already feeling the heat as garment buyers reduce orders and investments drop.

“[T]he people are being held hostage, so what can you do?” he said.

“Look, nobody ‘owes’ Phnom Penh preferential trade. What Phnom Penh owes the Cambodian people is some modicum of respect for human rights and democracy.”

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Ottawa announces new funding to combat online child abuse

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Ottawa has announced $22 million in funding to fight online child abuse.

Noting that police-reported incidents of child pornography in Canada increased by 288 per cent between 2010 and 2017, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the announcement Tuesday.

It follows a London meeting last week that focused on the exploitation of children between Goodale and his counterparts from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, collectively known as the Five Eyes intelligence group.

Major internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were also at the meeting and agreed to a set of rules the members of the group proposed to remove child pornography from the internet quicker.

On Tuesday, Goodale warned internet companies they had to be better, faster and more open when in comes to fighting child abuse on line.

In this Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 photo, detectives use the Cellebrite system to extract information from cellphones at the State Police facility in Hamilton Township, N.J. “Operation Safety Net,” the results of which were announced in December, netted 79 people suspected of exploiting children. (Thomas P. Costello/Asbury Park Press/Canadian Press)

“If human harm is done, if a child is terrorized for the rest of their life because of what happened to them on the internet, if there are other damages and costs, then maybe the platform that made that possible should bear the financial consequences,” Goodale said.

The government plan includes $2.1 million to intensify engagement with digital industry to develop new tools online and support effective operating principles, $4.9 million for research, public engagement, awareness and collaboration with non-governmental organizations and $15.25 million to internet child exploitation units in provincial and municipal police forces across the country.

Goodale said the strategy recognizes that technology is “increasingly facilitating the easy borderless access to vast volumes of abhorrent images.”

That, he said, makes investigations increasingly complex,

“This is a race where the course is always getting longer and more complicated and advancing into brand new areas that hadn’t been anticipated five years ago or a year ago or even a week ago,” Goodale said.

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Gas prices expected to dip in Ottawa

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If you can wait an extra day to fill up the gas tank, your bank account might thank you.

Roger McKnight of Enpro is predicting a five cent dip in gas prices Wednesday night at midnight.

This comes after a four cent drop this past Friday, just ahead of the August long weekend.

McKnight said the reason for the drop, both last week and this week, is due to comments made by US President Donald Trump. 

He says after the drop, the price will be, on average, 118.9 cents/litre in the Ottawa region.

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Oka asks Ottawa to freeze Mohawk land deal, send RCMP to Kanesatake

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The town of Oka is asking the federal and provincial governments to slap a moratorium on a proposed land grant to the local Mohawk community in Kanesatake and to establish an RCMP detachment on the First Nations territory to deal with illegal cannabis sales outlets.

The requests were contained in two resolutions adopted Tuesday night by the Oka town council.

The administration of Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon held its first public meeting since the start of the controversy that pitted the town council against the Kanesatake band council over a decision by a local promoter to give local lands to the Mohawk community.

The three resolutions are addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Quebec Premier François Legault’s government and the Kanesatake band council led by Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon.

As each resolution was read into the record, Quevillon stressed that the town of Oka was only looking to live in peaceful cohabitation with the Mohawk community.

The town also called upon Ottawa to establish a consultation process that would take into account the concerns of residents in Oka and  Kanesatake.

Quevillon’s administration also wants access to the plans detailing what lands are at the centre of negotiations between the federal government and the Mohawk community for purchase, suggesting the talks are simply a disguised form of expropriation.

“They’re giving money to (the Mohawks) to buy our land and annex it to their territory,” Quevillon said.

Despite its demands, the Oka council adopted an official statement addressed to the Kanesatake band council saying the town’s population wanted dialogue and peaceful cohabitation, with Quevillon citing the 300 years of close links between the two communities.

During the council meeting’s question period, some residents suggested that the council deal with other groups that say they are speaking for Kanesatake, including Mohawk traditionalists. Mayor Quevillon replied that the town would only deal with the band council and did so out of respect for Grand Chief Simon.

The mayor also argued that the RCMP, a federal police force, was best suited to be deployed in Kanesatake, where it would ensure the law would be respected, particularly on the issue of illegal cannabis shops.

Quevillon contended such a deployment was the only way for both communities to work together toward their mutual economic development.

Meanwhile, the apology Grand Chief Simon has said he is expecting from Quevillon for remarks he made earlier this summer about the Mohawk community in Kanesatake does not appear to be coming any time soon.

Asked by a resident if he would apologize, Quevillon left the answer to those citizens who attended the meeting, the vast majority of whom replied, “no.”

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