Public Agenda | Accra | 18 April 2006
Fair trade campaigners push for the scrapping of EPAs
Thirty civil society groups across Africa and Europe have called for an end to negotiations aimed at implementing an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union and Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. The EPA according to the group is essentially a free trade agreement between unequal partners with devastating effects on the economies of the ACP countries.
The groups made up of the Third World Network-Africa, Ghana, Oxfam International, ChristianAid, the Tax Justice Network of South Africa, the Alternative Information Development Centre, South Africa, and the Alternatives to Neo-liberalism in Southern Africa among 24 other Civil Society Organizations, made the call at the end of a four-day meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, held from March 27-30 this year.
The groups dismissed the argument of the EU that the EPAs would ensure a freer trade relationship between it and ACP countries, and pointed out that with its ‘overwhelming economic and political’ influence, the EU cannot pretend to negotiate a free trade area with the ‘fragile and dependent economies of the ACP countries.’ Moreover, they asserted that the process of the negotiations is not only being ‘rushed’, but also ‘imbalanced’, giving the EU undue advantage to ‘impose its interests and agenda’ as well as dictate the pace of the negotiations.
It has been two years since the civil society organisations, social movements, and mass-membership organisations across Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific and Europe adopted the campaign to STOP the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) as currently designed and negotiated between the European Union and ACP groups of countries.
However after two years of their anti-EPAs campaign, no fundamental changes have occurred in the nature of the EPAs and the process of negotiation despite wide-spread recognition among governments, inter-governmental institutions, parliamentarians, civil society actors and a diverse range of social constituencies across the ACP, Europe and the rest of the world of the dangers posed by the EPAs to the economies and peoples of the ACP countries. This recognition comes in sharp contrast to the EU’s rhetoric that the EPAs represent the only road map to the development of ACP countries.
In counting the hazards of the EPAs, the civil society groups point out that the EPAs in their current form seek not only to “expand Europe’s access to ACP markets for its goods, services, and investments, but to expose ACP producers to unfair European competition in domestic and regional markets, and increase the domination and concentration of European firms, goods and services.”
This, they argue, will in no doubt lead to deeper unemployment, loss of livelihoods, food insecurity and social and gender inequity and inequality as well as undermine human and social rights in ACP countries.
Besides, the EPAs are set to endanger the ongoing, but fragile processes of regional integration among the ACP countries; and deepen the socio-economic decline and political fragility that characterises most ACP countries.
They are therefore not only demanding that the EPAs be stopped, but also for an overhaul and review of the whole EU’s neo-liberal external trade policy, particularly with respect to developing countries.
The fair trade campaigners also demand that the EU-ACP trade cooperation should be founded on an approach that is based on a principle of non-reciprocity, as instituted in Generalised System of Preferences and special and differential treatment in the WTO. Additionally, the negotiations should seek to protect ACP producers, domestic and regional markets; as well as reverse the pressure for trade and investment liberalisation; and allow the necessary policy space for ACP countries to pursue their own development strategies.
It is their contention also that the primary responsibility for promoting the interests and needs of the people in ACP countries and of defending them against the ravages of free trade agreements with the EU lies with the governments in the ACP countries, not EU.
To this end, the group observes, "ACP governments must heed to the call of their citizens over the EPAs and halt the negotiations."