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EU begins process to suspend Cambodia's trade benefits

Cambodian vendors sell vegetables and fruits at a local market on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Feb. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

BRUSSELS (Kyodo) -- The European Union on Monday began a process that could lead to the suspension of Cambodia's preferential access to the bloc's market over its record on human rights and democracy.

Cambodia benefits from the 28-member bloc's "Everything but Arms" trade regime, which allows the world's poorest nations to sell any goods, except weapons, tariff-free into the European Union.

Brussels warned last July that Cambodia could lose this preferential access after widely criticized elections that kept Prime Minister Hun Sen in power and gave his party every parliamentary seat.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc is aware that Cambodian authorities have taken positive steps in recent months, such as releasing detained political figures and addressing some restrictions on civil society and trade union activities.

"However, without more conclusive action from the government, the situation on the ground calls Cambodia's participation in the EBA scheme into question," she said.

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