Mixed Messages from the EU on Sugar

While the European Union is examining charges that its sugar trade regime is fomenting human rights violations, it was unclear this week whether this could trigger human rights provisions in European trade rules to suspend duty-free imports.

An official said Monday the EU had not started an investigation but it was “gathering information” on the issue.

The EU announced last week at a human rights conference in Phnom Penh that it would examine claims of human rights violations by sugar firms and on Friday the EU met with human rights groups and villagers who alleged that sugar tycoon Ly Yong Phat has illegally grabbed farmland belonging to hundreds of families.

Mr Yong Phat, a CPP Senator, has benefited from the EU’s Everything But Arms initiative by selling sugar to the EU duty-free and at a guaranteed minimum price.

Rafael Dochao-Moreno, the EU’s charge d’affaires in Cambodia, said Monday that the EU was not conducting an investigation into rights violations by the sugar industry, but it was collecting information on the issue.

“We are gathering this information in order to improve our understanding of the relevant facts in this case. I stress again that we are not doing so in the context of any investigation,” he wrote in an email.

Mr Moreno did not clarify if the collected information on possible rights violations by sugar companies might ultimately be used to determine if the EBA initiative’s human rights provisions had been breached.

“We will share the information we collect with our concerned services dealing with Cambodia in Brussels which…is something we do as a standard practice on a daily basis concerning a wide range of subjects,” he wrote.

Rights groups have pointed to what they say are well-documented cases of human rights abuses by sugar firms and have asked the EU to investigate if Cambodian sugar industry’s EBA trade benefits should be suspended for violating the scheme’s provisions.

Staff at rights groups Licadho and the Community Legal Education Center confirmed they met with EU officials Friday, but they declined to comment yesterday on the steps the EU was now taking.


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