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Mandelson in ’illegal’ trade move

In advice for a new report by the development charity ActionAid a lawyer in Matrix Chambers today warns that European Union trade commissioner Peter Mandelson is violating a legal duty to Africa by undermining alternatives to his trade plans which, critics fear, threaten the jobs of millions of poor people.

This deepens embarrassment for Mr Mandelson after leaked documents in May showed that he is seeking to exploit his close relationship with Tony Blair to persuade him to revise UK policy. In March the government had issued a statement questioning the speed at which African countries should open their markets to products from EU big business under proposed economic partnership agreements.

Now Kate Cook, a government lawyer before moving to Matrix Chambers, says Mr Mandelson’s uncompromising position on EPAs breaches treaty obligations to African, Caribbean and Pacific nations. The legal alert is signalled as Jack Straw today, with Britain holding the European presidency, chairs talks between EU foreign ministers at Coldra Woods, near Newport in Wales. The advice to ActionAid counsels that Mr Mandelson is violating a trade and development treaty made with ACP countries at Cotonou, in the West African state of Benin, which obliged the EU to consider alternatives to its plans.

This latest move will intensify pressure on Mr Mandelson to give 76 ACP nations - many of them among the poorest in the developing world - a choice over EU deals. More than 180 MPs have signed a Commons motion attacking EPAs and the cross-party international development committee expressed concern over the proposals. In addition, criticism has come from Mr Blair’s Commission for Africa, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, Botswana’s president Festus Mogae and Kenyan trade minister, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi.

And the EPAs controversy is widening as Britain, also presiding over the G8 group of the richest nations, faces rising heat to stop forcing developing countries to open their markets in the run-up to the World Trade Organisation ministerial summit in Hong Kong in December

ActionAid is concerned that Mr Mandelson will bully poor ACP countries into accepting EPAs through fear they will otherwise lose aid and access to European markets. Amid a warning that EPAs would risk the livelihoods of millions of people, the charity today launches a new report examining pro-development alternatives.

The report’s author, ActionAid trade policy officer Tom Sharman, said: “Peter Mandelson is breaking international law by rubbishing alternatives to economic partnership agreements and Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroder are letting him get away with it.

“But it is not too late for the EU to scrap plans to force open African markets and start proper discussions on a trade deal that puts poor people before big business.”


Downloads: for the report for the legal advice