By Enga Kameni,
Trade and Investment Law Analyst
"These are not free trade agreements in the way anyone understand them. They are development tools, trade and Aid working together to deliver sustainable growth"
Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Commissioner.
The above is one of the high profiled empty speeches, characteristic feature of EU trade diplomacy. When Mandelson made the above speech, I came to the conclusion that I have witnessed the highest degree of hypocrisy since I came into this planet earth.
On a recent visit to Cameroon, I tried, albeit unfailingly, to keep track of the CEMAC (Central African Monetary and Economic Community) EU EPA negotiation. It is been rumoured that Central African Region is one of the EPA configurations making greater strides towards the conclusion of EPAs (spare me for using the word rumour, I can say with certainty that CEMAC EU EPA negotiations is the most non-transparent of all the configurations). So, I embarked on my Cameroon trip to ascertain the veracity or otherwise of this assertion. Coincidentally, I arrived when Mr. Mandelson, EU Trade boss, was in Cameroon.
Mr Mandelson’s visit could be described as a mixed blessing because, for the first time, Civil Society Organisations demonstrated and secondly, it exposed the oft neglected EU sly diplomacy. More shockingly is the apparent ease with which Cameroon’s Minister of Finance and president of CEMAC council of ministers analysed the current negotiations, “EPA would provide continued protection while opening in those areas which will pump economic oxygen into our economies”. As a trade lawyer who has been involved in the ACP EU trading relations, especially EPA negotiations, I found the Ministers appraisal, if anything, as disappointing. In a country where meritocracy is often sacrificed at the alter of mediocrity, such statements abound.
I have had the good fortune of participating and closely following the Southern African Development Community (SADC) EU EPA negotiations and I must say it is in stark contrast to what we have in the CEMAC region. First, the level of CSO participation in the SADC EU EPA negotiation is impressive. For the past year, there have been many seminars on various aspects of the negotiations, which have provided CSOs the platform to voice their concerns on EPA. Comparatively, there have been very few, if any, of such seminars in the CEMAC region. My understanding of the EPA state of play in the CEMAC region is that CSOs are completely neglected in the entire EPA processes. Ironically, this, contravenes the spirit and letter of the Cotonou Agreement. Anyway, it is Cameroon, who cares?
The fears that breaking tariffs would destroy custom duties have been well documented and it is not my wish to explore that in the CEMAC context. I have on many occasions opined that EPA, if properly managed and sequenced would, in the long run be beneficial to ACP countries. However, the rate at which the negotiations are unfolding in the CEMAC configuration is a cause for concern. There have been very few “non-objective” impact assessments been carried out. It is questionable if these assessments really took into consideration the facts and figures as is on the ground, especially as there is an apparent dearth of CSOs participation. Besides, there is no transparency. How can one term the assessments as objective?
It is my humble submission that Cameroon and CEMAC are not yet ready for an EPA with the EU. The region suffers from supply side constraints which make it vulnerable for any deal with the EU. Though EU Commissioner for Development, Louis Michel, has promised that Cameroon’s EDF and CEMAC EDF will be increased by 100% and 35% respectively, there is little evidence that developmental issues would be addressed. In a country where corruption continues apace, one wonders what impact the 10th EDF would have to offset the short term economic consequences of signing EPAs.