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EPAs will destroy African economies — German NGOs

Inter Press Service | 29 October 2007

EPAs will destroy African economies — German NGOs

By Julio Godoy

BERLIN, Oct 29 (IPS) — The economic partnership agreements (EPAs), proposed by the European Union (EU) to African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, constitute a ‘‘neo-colonial instrument’’ which will destroy the economic and social basis in African states, according to some German non-governmental organisations.

European opponents of EPAs say that, in general, the trade negotiations between the EU and the ACP countries have been driven predominantly by European corporate interests and those of a few privileged business elites in ACP countries.

Opponents also complain that the negotiations have been insulated from public scrutiny and debate, whether in Europe or in the ACP countries themselves.

But the EU defends its proposal, arguing that arrangements under the old Lomé agreement are not compatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and therefore need to be renegotiated.

Although this is technically true, EPA opponents say, it highlights a problem with WTO rules rather than a problem with the old Lomé agreement.

Criticism against the EPAs has also emanated from political parties. In Austria, the leading ruling Social Democratic Party (SPOE, after its German name) has decided to discuss the EPAs on November 19 in the framework of the national parliament’s debate on North-South relations.

‘‘We will use all parliamentary and democratic resources to discuss the EPAs and to give the ACP countries the fairness they need in their relations with the EU,’’ promised Petra Bay, the SPOE’s spokesperson for international development policies.

The EU should not use the EPAs ‘‘to put pressure on ACP states to blackmail them into a free trade agreement,’’ Bayr said. ‘‘As they are conceived today, the EPAs would provoke enormous revenue losses for the African states, thus provoking other catastrophic consequences. The EPAs must be an acceptable framework for Europe and for Africa,’’ she added.

Although the EU and individual European governments have been defending the EPAs as ‘‘real partnerships’’ between Europe and Africa and as instruments for economic development, German NGOs see them with critical eyes. Frauke Banse, who keeps track of the EPAs for the German anti-globalization group ATTAC, told IPS, ‘‘these so-called partnerships will expose ACP economies to destructive competition’’.

ATTAC, an acronym of the French name of the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions to Aid Citizens, was founded in 1998 in Paris, France. Its first concrete proposal was the taxation of financial transactions in order to create a development fund and to help curb stock market speculation. Today, ATTAC is active on a wide range of issues and in many countries.

Banse said that, through the EPAs, the EU is demanding from the ACP countries ‘‘to open their markets not only to European goods and commodities, but also to services and investment. The consequences of such liberalization would be devastating. Unemployment and social injustice and poverty would increase and the political latitude for sustainable development would be reduced’’.

Therefore, ‘‘the EPAs cannot be accepted’’, she said.

Michael Frein, an expert on trade policy and environment at the German Church Development Service, adopts a similar position. ‘‘The EPAs are economic instruments for the benefit of the EU,’’ he told IPS. ‘‘African countries have already no protection against cheap imports from the EU, such as chicken, which are overflowing African markets.

‘‘With such exports, Europe is destroying the economic basis of local producers,’’ he added. ‘‘And, as if this scandal is not enough, the EU wants African countries to diminish their tariffs in order to increase European exports to such countries. Ultimately, African consumers and small producers will foot the bill.’’

Frein said that the reduction or abolition of tariffs would reduce income sources for African states. ‘‘Tariffs make up to 40 percent of all state revenues in African countries,’’ he said.

Dieter Simon, spokesperson of the German Coordination Centre for Southern Africa, also described the EPAs as instruments of ‘‘new economic colonialism’’. ‘‘Calling the EPAs instruments of economic development is a simply telling a lie. For Kenya alone, the EPAs will bring about the loss of some 625,000 jobs in the milk industry as a result of cheap imports from Europe,’’ he told IPS.

Simon urged the German Bundestag (the lower chamber of the German parliament) to discuss ‘‘openly the real social, economic, and ecological consequences of EPAs for Africa’’.

The German NGOs’ opposition to the EPAs was publicly articulated in a large demonstration which took place in Berlin on September 27. People from 37 countries participated in the protest. Similar demonstrations took place in African capitals on the same day.

In a joint declaration, the German NGOs called on the EU to renounce forcing the ACP countries to open their markets to European services and investments. ‘‘Exports from ACP countries should continue to enjoy the benefit of the current special access to European markets,’’ the declaration says.

However, these calls have so far been ignored by the German political leadership. During a visit to three African countries earlier this month, German chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that African governments launch ‘‘the necessary reforms’’ in local economic practices and governance.

Merkel also promised the Germany would support ‘‘a real partnership’’ with African states, without saying precisely what this would constitute. Such calls the NGOs interpret as a support for the EPAs.

‘‘These so-called reforms put the lives of millions of African people at risk,’’ Roland Suss, director of ATTAC, told IPS.

Members of the European parliament have noted that outside the European Commission and some European governments, EPAs have very few advocates.

Robert Sturdy, in charge of a European parliamentary trade committee inquiry into the EPAs, put it as follows at the 11th session of ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna, on May 6, 2006: ‘‘Outside of the (EU) directorate general for trade policy, it has been impossible to find anyone with a good word to say about EPAs.’’

The EPAs are supposed to take effect as of January 1, 2008. They propose to create a free trade area between Europe and the 79 ACP signatories of the Lomé Convention, which dates back to the 1970s.

EPAs were included in the Cotonou agreement — a much wider agreement signed between the EU and the ACP countries in June 2000 in the capital of Benin. It covers aid, trade and political cooperation between the two groups of countries. The Cotonou agreement replaced the Lomé agreement, which gave ACP countries special access to sell certain products in European markets.