Stabroek News, Guyana
Guyana and the wider world
Design and architecture of the EPA: The importance of self-critique
By Dr Clive Thomas
24 February 2008
Central to many of the contentious planks that remain (especially 4-9) is the observation of Timothy Kondo (Alternatives to Neo-liberalism in Southern Africa) that the draft EPA, which formed the basis of negotiations for his region was prepared by the EU, (Third World Economics, October 1-15, 2007). This observation was reiterated more generally by Marc Maes: "The texts that the Commission has tabled have reflected the Commission’s approach to global trade. They do not reflect the interests and needs of ACP countries." (ibid, p12)
At a recent Caricom seminar, where I presented a listing of contentious planks on which the EPA is based (reprinted in the first article of this series), another presenter (Havelock Brewster) observed that all the contentious planks listed were embedded in the EU Template, around which CARIFORUM-EU negotiations were framed. The flaws therefore go as far back as the original design.
While it is expected that the EU would represent its interests forcibly in the design of the EPA, in Europe its tactics and modus operandi have come under severe criticism and censure as inappropriate for a "partnership of equals" as the EPAs were being portrayed by the EU. Nothing of the kind has been echoed in our region, except for the voices of a few NGOs and academics. All of these have been effectively marginalized from the trade negotiating process.
By no stretch of the imagination can blame for this situation be entirely attributed to the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM). This has been a collective failure of the region, especially on the part of the political directorates that should have guided the process.
At the time of Britain’s presidency of the EU, and the appointment of Peter Mandelson as EU Trade Commissioner, the Select Committee on International Development of the United Kingdom Parliament, reviewed the on-going EPA negotiations for which purpose it interviewed key officials including those at DFID and DTI. In its sixth report it expressed four concerns of enormous significance to our present review of the EPA.
First, it condemned the negotiations for being non-transparent and conducted away from effective public scrutiny, in parallel to the Doha Round of negotiations. Thus the report laments, "The lack of public scrutiny over the negotiation process between one of the world’s more powerful economic actors, the EU, and 79 of the world’s poorest economies, the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states (ACP). Outside of a small trade circle, very little notice is being taken of these negotiations which are running parallel to the WTO’s Doha ’development’ round."
A similar lack of public scrutiny prevailed in Caricom, even though I publicized these concerns expressed by the select committee. The committee highlighted the fact that with negotiations "running parallel" to the Doha Round, this was bound to disadvantage the ACP states.
Second, the committee noted that it was unfair to the ACP for the EU to push an agreement through without "special and differential treatment" and pressed for the developing status of the ACP countries to be guaranteed. Thus the report states: "The negotiations will fundamentally alter the trade relationship between the EU and the ACP. In particular, the ACP group, which used to be the most preferred trading partner of the EU, will be moving from non-reciprocal preferential access to reciprocal trading arrangements with the EU. Because of slow progress at the WTO, the EU cannot guarantee to offer the ACP states consideration of their development status in these new Partnership Agreements. Without special and differential treatment, the agreements will not be fair."
Third, the committee advised of potential conflict with ACP regional integration efforts. It urged that ACP positions at the WTO were being subverted by the piecemeal, region-by-region mode of negotiations the EU had foisted on the process. Thus the report states:
"Any agreement offered to the ACP must have a developmental component; should not conflict with regional integration processes; should not demand liberalisation in sectors where the EU has not itself liberalized; and should not seek to put onto the agenda in regional negotiations, issues which the ACP group has previously rejected as the all ACP level."
Finally, the committee was appalled at the cynical, manipulative way the EU was handling the negotiations, comparing it to a game of poker, where the winner-takes-all. It also stressed the unequal power relation. Thus the report states: "That the EU is approaching the negotiations with the ACP as if they were playing a game of poker. The Commission is refusing to lay its cards on the table and to dispel the ACP’s fear that it stands to lose more than it will gainâ€¦ The ACP is negotiating under considerable duress and the EU approach emphasizes the unequal nature of the negotiation process."
Of note, the committee’s report was quite explicit in rejecting the overall motive of the EU in shaping the architecture of the EPAs. It deplored the manifest lack of policy coherence, particularly as regards to the development and trade dimensions of the EU’s obligations. The committee also spoke out against ineffective coordinating mechanisms and called for "evidence of a greater level of cooperation between DG Development and DG Trade" (ibid, Para 55 and conclusion #18).
On the eve of the official launch of the EPA negotiations, the Cotonou Monitoring Group requested a review of the ACP guidelines and the EU negotiating mandates, and in its report an early indicator of what the select committee subsequently noted can be found. The review stated: "Despite its over-riding policy emphasis on poverty eradication and sustainable development, for the EU the ACP-EU negotiations are primarily about one thing, namely achieving the progressive and reciprocal liberalisation of trade in goods and services, in accordance with WTO rules, not taking into account the level of development of the ACP countries and the economic, social and environmental constraints they are facing." The emphasis is very much on "removing progressively barriers to trade." This is the overwhelming focus of the EU negotiating directives.
The review goes on to note that the EU negotiating directives virtually assume a priori that reciprocity was accepted as the goal of the ACP since there was really no provision for effective alternative trade arrangements, even though this was listed as an option under the terms of the Cotonou Agreement.
This is indeed powerful, robust and confident self-criticism aimed at improving the design and architecture of the EPA. The objective, however, failed. In the face of receiving the brunt of this mis-design and mis-specification how could the region afford to respond with a timid, weak, defensive, and insecure posture, when so much of its future is at stake?