Fiji Times | Tuesday, March 02, 2010
EU trade pacts
THE European Union Parliament is to give its consent to a draft decision aimed at approving the interim economic partnership agreement between the EU and the Pacific States.
This follows a meeting of the EU’s Economic and Financial Affairs Council last month.
The council members included the finance ministers of all EU member countries.
Last December, Fiji signed an interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU.
The agreement focused on trade in goods and providing duty free - quota free access for all products from Fiji to the EU market.
It also aims to deepen co-operation in areas such as animal and plant health as well as technical standards.
The interim EPA was initialled in November 2007 by Fiji and Papua New Guinea, who represent 83 per cent of the region’s exports to the EU.
The Pacific’s trade with the EU comprises only 0.06 per cent of the EU’s trading activities.
Under the agreement, all imports from Fiji and Papua New Guinea have duty free quota free access into the European market.
Fiji will remove Customs duties on 87 per cent of their imports from the EU over the next 15 years and Papua New Guinea will liberalise 88 per cent in the first year.
The total trade between the EU and Pacific ACP countries in 2008 was around $2.6billion.
The most important Pacific exports to the EU are animal and vegetable oils, sugar, coffee, tea and spices and copper.
Meanwhile, a new research has criticised the notion that cheaper imports reduce poverty in a country because they enable the poor to spend, which in turn boosts the economy.
One World Action, which conducted the study said the majority of women, especially the poor, were unlikely to be able to take advantage of imports resulting from the new EPAs.
Carolina Gottardo, Head of Policy and Advocacy at One World Action, which conducted the study with the Commonwealth Secretariat, explained that at first glance cheaper imports - including washing machines and gas cookers - "seem like a fantastic idea, especially for women who bear the brunt of most household duties in the developing world."
Yet the reality, she says, is that these kind of goods, which are affected by the new trade policies, do not benefit poor women.
"Items such as washing machines are of no use in some developing economies because houses have limited access to electricity," she points out, adding that they can only be afforded by households with higher incomes and easy access to energy sources.
"These and other examples prompt the need for a holistic approach at negotiations, which should not be gender blind.
"The negotiators must conduct thorough assessments of the situation of women and men in individual countries, and consider the fact that systemic discrimination of women limits their access to existing infrastructure and assets."
The study - which is the first of its kind - concludes that a combination of measures and policies are needed to ensure benefits of trade liberalisation are felt by the masses, and do not remain in the hands of the privileged few, excluding poor women.
Among the recommendations put forward by the authors were:
– A call for gender-focused analyses to be included in all trade integration studies and impact assessments’
– The need to strengthen commitments to resources spent on trade related sectors, and also improve effectiveness and the gender focus of Aid For Trade, and
– Broad-based participation in trade consultations, negotiations and monitoring.
As well as negative impacts of these trade agreements, the study also showed some positive effects, notably that women’s employment in the countries studied was unlikely to be badly affected - as women workers were not concentrated in the sectors to be liberalised.
Dr Marzia Fontana, one of the authors of the report and a development economist at the Institute of Development Studies in the United Kingdom, stressed that gender analysis of this kind was important in trade because "the effects of EPAs - under which African, Caribbean and Pacific countries are expected to offer duty-free access to ’substantially all’ EU imports - will be felt differently by women and men in their roles as producers, consumers and users of services."
The research, which explored the effects of EPAs on women’s rights and gender equality, took place between 2008 and 2009 in Jamaica, Mozambique and Tanzania and was supported by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).