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Pressure groups to hold mass protests at AU summit

The Statesman, Ghana

Pressure groups to hold mass protests at AU summit

By Suleiman Mustapha

26 June 2007

As Accra gets set to host the African Union Summit next week, Civil Society Groups and other Pressure Organisations are also adding to the menu of the summit, trade agreement issues on the agenda of Heads of States and Governments.

Pressure groups have started arriving in Accra in earnest and holding seminars and workshops, sensitising participants drawn from various organisations including the media on the dangers of the Economic Partnership Agreement, currently being negotiated between the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the European Union, which is due to be signed in December this year.

The latest to arrive in Accra for the mass protest against the accord is the Students Coalition Against EPA, whose membership cuts across all the students unions in Africa.

President of the coalition Kwabena Ofosuhene Okai, said in an interview with The Statesman that, the EPAs when signed will threaten the survival of African industries, with potential consequences on employment and the rights of citizens.

The group will present a petition expressing their opposition to the pact to the African Trade Ministers in Accra.

Social movements around the continent including Oxfam International and the Panos Institute of West Africa and journalists around the continent are currently strategising on how to reverse the current state of negotiations by engaging the attention of African leaders through protests and petitions.

Advocacy group, Third World Network will also later this week hold a forum aimed at mobilising support to put pressure on ACP governments to take positions on the process and content of the EPAs by engaging a critical mass of strategic African civic and political constituencies and networks in active opposition to the EPAs.

The forum is also to attain critical and sustained degree of coverage of the EPAs.Pan-African Head of the Economic Justice of Oxfam International, Mouhamet Lamine Ndiaye said at a seminar in Accra that under the world Trade organisation rules, parties are required to liberalise, with the ACP countries being compelled to give duty-free access to "substantially all" EU export within a reasonable time.

Under the agreement, which takes effect from January 2008, ACP countries are required to open their markets to direct competition from the highly competitive EU goods and services including investment and government procurement.

According to Lamine, "surely partnership implies that both parties gain from an agreement ?" adding that "with EPA"s, the gains for the EU are clear; but it is hard to see where the gains will be for ACP countries."

The Economic Justice head of Oxfam accused the EU of pushing for the inclusion of competition policy, investment, trade facilitation, and transparency in government procurement known as the Singapore issues in the EPA process. With the exception of trade facilitation, developing countries, developing countries have successfully excluded those items from the remit of the WTO negotiations.

ACP countries have collectively stated that they do not want to include competition policy, investment and government procurement in the EPA negotiations and described their disagreement with the EU as of a "fundamental nature".

At the last ministerial summit of the African Union, Ministers called on the EU not to press African countries to take up obligations that go beyond their WTO obligations, and requested that the issue of investment and government procurement remain outside the ambit of the EPA’s, " yet the EC continues to insist that there will be no EPA’s without investment rules and full reciprocity." Lamine said.

The EPA’s negotiations are being conducted between 25 EU countries, which have a combined GDP of $13,300bn and six groups of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, with 39 of the world’s 50 Least Developed Countries.

The smallest group, which is the Pacific Islands, has a combined GDP of only $9bn, 1,400 times smaller than the EU, even the largest group, which is the West African region is more than 80 times smaller than the EU in terms of GDP.