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Stop the EPAs, Oxfam, Panos tell African leaders

Ghanaian Chronicle, Ghana

Stop the EPAs, Oxfam, Panos Tell African Leaders

By Joseph Coomson

28 June 2007

Social movements across the African Continent have started arriving in Accra for the 9th Ordinary Summit of the African Union, scheduled for July 2-3, 2007.

Over 120 civil society representatives and activists around the continent are attending the conference, which will debate and analyse how the Union Government proposal can strengthen the institutional effectiveness of both Member States and the Pan African institutions to implement the decisions and declarations of the AU Assemblies.

Prominent among the Groups are the delegation from Oxfam International, Panos Institute of West Africa and the Third World Network, Africa, who are in town to push the agenda of balanced trade policies.

Key among the plans of the Movements is to correct the imbalances in the controversial Economic Partnership Agreement currently being negotiated between the African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries and the European Union and which is due to be signed in December this year.

Oxfam International and Panos Institute of West Africa are currently holding workshops in Accra with various stakeholders including Journalists and student Unions from across the Continents to discuss how to alert the Heads of States and Governments who will be arriving in the Ghanaian capital next week for summit on the dangers of the free trade agreement with the European Union.

Other seminars, foras and lectures on the EPAs are being organised in the run up to the conference date.

Flyers will also be distributed to delegates on Stop the EPA campaign.

Mass protestations will also be held during the summit against the accord.

A release issued by Oxfam International and signed by the Pan Africa Head of Economic Justice said "The quiet advance of trade and investment agreements between rich and poor countries threatens to deny developing countries a favourable foothold in the global economy.

According to Oxfam, the rules on liberalisation of services in Free Trade Agreements has the potential of driving local firms out of business, reduce competition and extend the monopoly power of large companies.

The new rules in the EPA also pose a threat to poor people’s access to essential services. In some free trade agreements developing countries are committing themselves to let foreign investors into public utilities when the sector is opened up to domestic private companies.

New investment rules in many agreements prevents developing country governments from requiring foreign companies to transfer technology, train local workers, or source inputs locally. Under such conditions foreign investment fails to build national linkages, create decent employment or increase wages, and instead exacerbates inequalities.

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Free trade agreements also impose radical tariff liberalisation, threatening the livelihood of small farmers and preventing governments from using tariff policy to promote manufacturing. Through the Economic Partnership Agreement, Europe proposes to oblige the poorest countries in the world to reduce a very large part of their tariff to zero whilst at the same time free trade agreements does not adverse impact of the rich-country subsidies on poor countries through dumping, or the plethora of non-tariff barriers that continue to impede access to rich country markets.

According to Oxfam, "the overall effect of these changes in the rules is to progressively undermine economic governance, transferring power from governments to largely unaccountable multinationals firms, robbing developing countries of the tools they need to develop their economies and gain a favourable foothold in global markets."

Although, developing countries governments have proved themselves increasing assertive at the WTO and in some regional and bilateral agreements, the balance of power in current negotiations remain tipped heavily in favour of rich countries, and large politically influential corporations. Furthermore, within developing countries, small businesses, trade unions, non governmental organisations, women’s groups and indigenous peoples have very few mechanisms for participation, and their rights and needs are largely ignored.