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Southern NGOs want greater say in agreements with EU

IPS | 23 April 2006

Southern NGOs Want Greater Say in Agreements with EU

Analysis by Ramesh Jaura

BRUSSELS, Apr 23 (IPS) — Civil society organisations from a large group of developing countries are insisting on full participation in negotiations under way with the European Union.

The ongoing talks about economic partnership agreements (EPAs) are critical for long- term development, economic growth, and poverty reduction in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, according to participants at the ACP Civil Society Forum held in Brussels Apr. 19-21.

The forum called upon the ACP, a group of 77 developing countries, and the EU to reaffirm that the EPA negotiations will be transparent, and become tools of development to address "the specific requirements of NSAs." NSAs are non-state actors, which include civil society organisations such as farmers’ unions in the ACP countries.

The Forum also urged the ACP member states and the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, to mobilise financial resources to ensure that "representatives of national, regional and all NSA organisations are routinely informed, consulted and allowed to express their views on the promotion of long-term development priorities throughout the course of the EPA negotiation process.’’

Speaking on behalf of the civil society organisations, Renswick Rose, coordinator of the Windward Islands Farmers Association (the islands include St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Martinique, Dominica, Grenada and St. Lucia) told the ACP secretariat and EU representatives that ’’there has been a failure to...allow for the full participation of the civil society in ensuring implementation of the Cotonou agreement."

The Cotonou agreement, signed Jun. 23, 2000 in Cotonou in the West African nation Benin lays down the basic principles and the timeframe for negotiations on EPAs, which are scheduled to enter into force by Jan. 1, 2008. The treaty spans a 20-year period from March 2000 to February 2020.

The Brussels forum, the second since the one held in July 2001, was convened by the ACP secretariat under the Cotonou agreement.

ACP Secretary-General Sir John Kaputin from Papua New Guinea agreed with non- governmental organisation (NGO) representatives that the EPAs "must be designed to achieve long-term development, economic growth and indeed poverty reduction in ACP states."

But while welcoming these remarks, NGO participants said ACP country governments were under "heavy economic and political pressure" from the European Commission to open up their markets to European goods.

’’As a result of heavy dependence on aid, ACP governments have little choice but to give in to the EU’s demand that they open up their markets to European goods and services,’’ an NGO group including Caribbean NGO Policy, Development Centre (Barbados), CONGAC (Cameroon), Econews Africa (Kenya) and Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (Fiji) said in a joint statement.

"In fact, the overwhelming emphasis on liberalisation in the EPA negotiations proves that these negotiations are about expanding Europe’s access to ACP markets, rather than about ACP countries’ development," the civil society organisations said.

The professed objective of the EPAs is to establish "new WTO compatible trading arrangements removing progressively barriers of trade between EU and ACP countries." These arrangements would build on "the regional integration initiatives of ACP states" and promote "sustainable development and contribute to poverty eradication in the ACP countries."

But participants at the forum said that the economic partnership agreements being negotiated are essentially Free Trade Agreements (FTA). The EU has insisted that the EPAs be based on a tight interpretation of WTO rules aiming for early elimination of all trade barriers on more than 90 percent of EU-ACP trade.

In addition, the EU is demanding negotiations in the field of investment, competition, trade facilitation, government procurement, data protection and services.

These negotiations were rejected by ACP countries in the WTO because of their negative implications for development. Under the guise of a ’development partnership’ the EU is re- introducing its WTO free trade agenda through the EPAs, the NGOs said in their joint statement.

"Regional integration efforts are central to ACP countries’ development strategies," the NGOs said. "The civil society forum is concerned that the EPAs will endanger the fragile processes of regional integration and expose ACP producers to unfair European competition in domestic and regional markets."

The result will be deeper unemployment, loss of livelihoods, food insecurity and social inequality, the statement warns. ACP governments will face significant losses in public revenue from the elimination of import duties and will continue to suffer from capital flight associated with liberalisation, it said.

The NGOs concern is also rooted in the fact that relations between the 25-nation European Union (EU) and the 77 ACP states are regarded as a model of the EU development cooperation policy.

From 1975 until 2000 these relations were governed by the regularly updated Lomé Convention, named after the capital of Togo. The EU considered the expiration of the Lomé Convention in February 2000 an opportunity to review relations with the ACP countries, not least because the fall of the Berlin Wall and dissolution of the Soviet Union ended the East-West conflict that had overshadowed North-South relations.

Since the EPA process got under way in September 2002, the ACP and the EU have conducted ’clarification meetings’ on economic partnership agreements in Brussels, involving all ACP countries.

Specific negotiations with ACP regions have also been launched: in October 2003 with West Africa and Central Africa, in February 2004 with Eastern and Southern Africa, in April 2004 with the Caribbean, in July 2004 with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and in September 2004 with the Pacific region.

 source: IPS