PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told garment workers on Wednesday that they would be the ones to suffer - not him - if the European Union withdrew preferential trade terms over the banning of the main opposition party.
After the Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) last week at the government’s request, the European Union raised a potential threat to the tariff free access it grants most Cambodian exports.
European Union countries accounted for about 40 percent of Cambodia’s exports in 2016. Most of that was clothing.
“You must remember clearly that if there is any cut of buying orders, it’s all the fault of a group of people of the opposition party,” Hun Sen told garment workers in Phnom Penh.
“Hun Sen won’t die but workers, you will die,” he said.
The CNRP was banned after its leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested for alleged treason.
The government says Kem Sokha sought to take power with American help. He rejects that allegation as politically motivated, to allow Hun Sen to extend his more than three decades in power in a general election next year.
Hun Sen accused the opposition party, many of whose leaders are in exile, of trying to lobby against Cambodian trade.
Leaders of the opposition party have said they would not call for measures to curb trade because of the impact it could have on the livelihoods of an estimated 700,000 garment workers.
Sweden said on Tuesday it was stopping new aid for Cambodia, except in education and research, and would no longer support a reform programme in the first concrete action by an EU country.
The United States cut election funding and said it would take more punitive steps.
But Cambodia’s economy has proved largely immune to political turbulence, recording annual growth of about 7 percent for the past six years.
The World Bank said on Wednesday it expected the economy to grow 6.9 percent next year, compared with a projected 6.8 percent pace in 2017, despite risks including uncertainty over the election.
Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Robert Birsel