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Civil society groups want African leaders to stop trade talks with EU

The Tide, Nigeria

Civil society groups want African leaders to stop trade talks with EU

3 August 2006

African Civil Society has called on the governments to stop negotiations on the proposed Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union EU, saying it would undermine development and lead to increased poverty.

Addressing a news conference in Nairobi, the 16 civil society organisations from the southern and eastern Africa said the new trade deals being pushed by the EU would make the continent poor.

The groups from 16 countries came together in Nairobi to seek a common stance in preparation for ministerial EP As talks scheduled for August in Khartoum.

The trade activists called for a stop to the EPAs and alternatives that would the lives of Africans.

“We are calling for alternative agreements that would protect African producers in domestic and regional markets and reverse the pressure for trade and investment liberalisation,” Valerie Traore, Pan-African Programme Manager for ACORD organisation told journalists in Nairobi.

African countries currently enjoy preferential market access to the EU but this is due to expire in 2007.

The EPAs are designed to replace the preference system with free trade agreements that would open the African markets to EU products.

The organisations urged ministers and negotiators to find a way to maintain EU preferences in key sectors such as fish, flowers and horticulture, without forcing African countries to open their markets to unfair competition.

“The region is confused, it can not configure the rational way for economic development. If Africa will sign the agreement, then Africa will be wiped out of development,” said Peter Aoga of EcoNews Africa.

The groups said after the WTO talks in the Doha round were suspended last week because of the short-sighted stance of rich countries, the focus is going to be on the EPAs which the EU is trying to forge with individual country in eastern and southern Africa.

“The EPAs have potentially negative implications for our food security and our small-scale farmers. We could see imports such as subsidised powdered milk from the EU that could directly undermine our own dairy farmers,” said Moses Shaha, national chairman of the Kenya Small-Scale Farmers Forum.

“Without the ability to raise tariffs to protect themselves, the developing countries will be extremely vulnerable to unfair competition,” Shaha added.

African negotiators and ministers from the east and southern Africa will meet in Khartoum from August 16 to August 25 to discuss an EPAs draft.

According to the draft, tariffs in the manufacturing sector, including fertiliser, cement, salt, medicines, paper, footwear and insecticides, will come down.

That means these industries will face premature competition from their EU rivals.