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Oxfam: rethink unfair EU trade deals before it’s too late

The EU will do irrevocable damage to the development prospects of some of the poorest countries in the world unless it overhauls free trade deals due to be finalised this year, said Oxfam in a report published today.

In Partnership or Powerplay?, released at the twelfth UN Conference on Trade and Development in Ghana, Oxfam presents the first comprehensive analysis of the proposed texts. It concludes that, if finalised, these Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) would hurt poor people and undermine development across Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP).

Mouhamet Lamine Ndiaye, Oxfam’s Pan-Africa Head of Economic Justice said: “Our analysis shows that these deals have strayed far from the development template they were supposed to follow. The cost will be enormous: annual losses from tariff cuts of $360m for Africa alone, and a further $9bn for compliance for all the countries involved. Not to mention the loss of independent trade policy, badly needed to promote development and protect livelihoods.”

Oxfam’s analysis revels that promised transition periods for liberalisation of up to 25 years have only been offered to a few countries, for handful of products. Furthermore, developing countries have been granted very limited scope to retain any protection and they have had to use it for agricultural products on which the EU still pays big trade distorting subsidies.

Strict intellectual property rules proposed by the EU would deepen the digital divide and challenge traditional farming methods, including seed saving. They are offset by very weak EU commitments to helping poor countries access new technology.

The EU wants to finalise deals on goods by mid-2008 and wind up negotiations on services, investment and other areas over the following year. Yet legal experts say that deals initialled at the end of 2007 are not legally binding and could be revised. Ministers, MPs, trade and development experts and academics have all questioned the current approach.

“In a fair deal, Europe would fully open its markets to all exports without demanding reciprocation. It would give developing countries the policy freedom to govern in the public interest and pursue regional integration on their own terms. And it would assist these countries to become more competitive, generate decent jobs and access new technologies,” said Ndaiye.

“There is a lot of potential to make a really positive difference to poor countries’ economic prospects, and there is still time to do so, but it is running out.”

The report recommends:
 A thorough independent evaluation of what has been initialled before any deal is signed
 Adaptation of existing EU preference schemes to ensure that no ACP country is left worse off if it doesn’t conclude an EPA
 Renegotiation of problematic aspects of the initialled deals
 ACP countries decide whether to negotiate on services, investment and other trade-related issues
 Additional support from the EU to tackle infrastructure and competitiveness constraints in the ACP
 ACP countries take stock within their regional blocs, fully consulting all affected parties including workers, producers and businesses

 source: Oxfam press release