To protest the alleged human-rights violations in Cambodia, the European Union is considering imposing trade sanctions against the country.

According to two officials familiar with the matter, the European Commission called on EU national governments to give the green light by January 29 for suspending a policy that lets Cambodia export all goods except weapons duty-free and quota-free to the bloc.  They spoke to Bloomberg on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations are private.

As reported by Bloomberg, any go-ahead from EU national capitals would still leave a decision by the commission, the bloc’s executive arm, 12 months away. At stake is Cambodia’s place in the EU’s “Everything But Arms” initiative, the most generous part of the bloc’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences for poor countries around the world.

The EU is trying to prod changes in the political behaviour of strongman Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen while being wary of damaging the country’s economy, where a $5bn garment industry employs 750,000 people and is the biggest exporter.

According to Bloomberg, the latest internal EU preparations to withdraw commercial benefits for Cambodia follow a January 21 meeting between European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn.

“We discussed the EBA agreement and the possibility of a withdrawal of the tariff preferences,” Malmstrom said in a Twitter post after the meeting in the Belgian capital. “Reiterated our concerns on democracy, human rights and rule of law. The EU continues to keep the path of dialog open.”