logo logo

Charities attack Mandelson’s trade plans

Charities attack Mandelson’s trade plans

David Gow in Brussels and Larry Elliott
Friday January 21, 2005
The Guardian

Peter Mandelson outlined plans yesterday for new trade deals between Brussels and 77 of the world’s poorest countries but immediately ran into flak as development campaigners accused Europe’s trade commissioner of liberalisation "by the back door".

In a speech to non-governmental organisations, the newly appointed Mr Mandelson dismissed accusations of bullying by the EU and said he was offering developing countries the chance of a helping hand to build up their own industries and services without pressure to open up their markets in return.

He said economic partnership agreements (EPAs) being negotiated with 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries would be a tool for development and would promote regional development, rather than forcing poor countries into open trading with the industrialised world. Mr Mandelson has put development at the heart of his trade agenda and insisted yesterday that developing countries would not be forced to liberalise against their will.

But leading NGOs were unimpressed by Mr Mandelson’s comments. They said the agreements were a blueprint for liberalisation and that Europe was using them to negotiate in areas that had been rejected by developing countries in the multilateral negotiations being conducted under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation.

Officials in Brussels made no secret of their attempts to include the so-called Singapore issues of investment, competition policy and government procurement in the deals, even though they proved a stumbling block when WTO talks foundered in Cancún, Mexico, in 2003.

They insisted, however, that Brussels was not trying to prise open markets in poor coun tries for European companies but instead seeking to improve economic governance.

Mr Mandelson made plain that EPAs would only succeed if large segments of ACP economies could be made competitive and that the transition period from 2008 - the deadline for reaching deals - to free up access for EU goods could well be longer than 10 years.

"The purpose is the successful integration of the ACP economies in the global economy, and by that I mean putting the ACP on a ladder of prosperity that ends the grinding poverty which is the daily experience of so many of their citizens," he said.

Acknowledging the validity of much NGO criticism of EPAs, he said: "They are not classical, hard-nosed, free trade agreements of the sort that developing blocs negotiate between them.

"We are not going into the negotiations saying that, for every step we take, for every euro we grant in aid, we insist on an equivalent return to us in market access for the EU."

Matt Griffith, of the Catholic charity Cafod, said: "This is a sticking plaster approach to development, forcing African countries into sweeping liberalisation with the EU, with the small consolation that they will have some scant aid money put in their pockets before the floodgates open."

Mr Mandelson was using softer language, he added, but the proposals remained hardline. "This is a new broom from Mandelson but he still plans to sweep away African trade barriers," he said.

Phil Bloomer, the head of Oxfam International’s Make Trade Fair campaign, said: "Commissioner Mandelson has acknowledged that free trade is a blunt instrument for reform and yet he wants to persist with these deals that in their current form will only make people poorer." He added that Europe was trying to sneak the Singapore issues in by the back door.

 source: The Guardian