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EPAs Should Be Subjected to Electoral Test

Inter Press Service

EPAs Should Be Subjected to Electoral Test

By Nasseem Ackbarally, Port Louis

27 April 2007

"Here is a free trade agreement between rich and poor countries in which the former is trying to impose a reciprocal system of trade on the latter, with major consequences for poor people."

This is the true picture of the economic partnership agreements (EPAs), according to Resistance and Alternative, a small Mauritian political party. The EPAs are currently being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to replace the existing preferential trade agreements.

Resistance and Alternative has appealed to parliamentarians to put an end to the negotiations because, as spokesperson Ashok Subron said, "it is for the people to decide such an agreement by way of a referendum. They will be the first to be affected."

Subron believes that the EPAs will be detrimental to economic and social development, peace and security, democracy and regional integration among ACP countries.

Explaining the consequences for the population, especially poor people, he said consumption would shift away from local producers to EU imports when the EPAs are fully implemented.

Subron cited research which predicted that local production for the domestic market will fall by 24 percent after the EPA is instituted. This will lead to jobs being cut by 12 percent, particularly in the manufacturing sector, affecting mostly women. Customs revenue will decrease by 54 percent.

Eric Mangar from the Mouvement Autossuffisance Alimentaire (MAA), a nongovernmental organisation working with local farmers, agreed with Subron. The EU will benefit mostly from the EPAs, he told IPS.

"I have a few questions but I do not know who will reply to them. For example, Mauritius is presently self-sufficient in chicken production. What will happen if EU chicken is imported here? Will it not affect the food security of the island? What will happen if we do not sign the EPAs? We should know," he pointed out.

Both Subron and Mangar maintained that Mauritius will be a great loser if the EPA is signed and implemented.

However, the Mauritian government does not see the EPAs that way.

The government expects the EPA arrangements to support its new economic trajectory and programme of reforms that will put the island on the path to sustainable development and global competitiveness.

"Mauritius is committed to the EPA and to economic reforms. But we need to ensure that there is a balance between what is given and what is received," Mauritius foreign and international trade minister Madan Dulloo said.

He proposed that adequate flexibilities and safeguard measures be built into the EPA for Mauritius, following the principle of special and differential treatment. Within the World Trade Organisation system, special and differential treatment is applicable to poor states in recognition of their lower developmental status when compared to industrialised states.

The island state wants to maintain the ACP-EU sugar protocol which gives it preferential access to the EU market. It is also seeking more flexible rules of origin.

Rules of origin in trade agreements determine where product inputs can be sourced from. Sometimes these measures are so restrictive that developing states are unable to utilise preferential access to the EU or US markets.

In negotiating the EPA, Mauritius also wants the necessary funding to develop trade-related infrastructure and boost supply capacity.

The current non-reciprocal tariff preferences that Mauritius enjoys under the Cotonou agreement will be maintained until December 31 2007. The EPA will kick in at the start of 2008.

The EU is proposing that it phases out the duty and quota regime on sugar from the ACP countries by 2015. Until 2015, volume-based safeguards will be applied to the stronger sugar producing ACP countries. Furthermore, its proposal also includes subjecting ACP sugar access to the EU market to a protective safeguard after 2015.

On this issue, Mauritian Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam warned that Mauritius will not be able to compete with countries like Swaziland, Sudan and Brazil when the EU cuts sugar prices by the planned 36 percent by 2009.

This is the reason why the island state, the biggest exporter of sugar from ACP countries, wants this product to be included on the list of sensitive products. "Lobbying is continuing on this issue," agro-industry minister Arvin Boolell told IPS.

But this promises to be a difficult task for Mauritian negotiators after the EU’s announcement that the EU-ACP sugar protocol will end in September 2009.

"This shows that there is no acquired right in this world," Ramgoolam commented, adding that Mauritius has failed to design a strategy to face the transition from a protected to an open economy.

Earlier this month in Washington, finance minister Rama Sithanen said "besides the fiscal revenue loss, we have also the painful social costs of adjustment". In the textile and clothing industry 30 percent of people have lost their job in recent years, 85 percent of whom are women. Thousands of others are facing the same fate in the sugar industry.