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The struggle continues over EPAs

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Inter Press Service

The Struggle Continues Over EPAs

By Francis Kokutse

30 August 2008

ACCRA, Aug 30 (IPS) - The economic partnership agreements (EPAs) are being given a bad name for nothing, according to Ghanaian parliamentarian JB Danquah.

Danquah, who is a member of the Ghanaian parliament’s select committee on environment, science and technology, told IPS, ‘‘the threat to African trade is not with the EPAs but with China and other Asian countries that are dumping their goods on the continent.’’

Explaining what he meant, he cited Ghanaian manufacturers who had been ‘‘tricked’’ by Chinese raw material suppliers. Ghanaians have given these suppliers the specifications of their products, only to have the suppliers make those very products.

Danquah was speaking against the backdrop of another civil society meeting protesting against the EPAs. The African Trade Network (ATN), consisting of African non-governmental organisations critical of the economic status quo, met this week in Ghana’s capital of Accra to strategise around new challenges emerging in their campaign against the EPAs.

ATN regards the trade deals currently being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries as ‘‘draconian’’ and calculated to ‘‘deepen the continued dependence on aid and development finance’’.

Moreover, the EPAs are ‘‘an extension of an intensification of unbridled neoliberal policies that Africa and other developing regions have been force-fed for nearly three decades now, and whose main outcome are the destruction of Africa’s productive sectors and human capital.’’

Neoliberal policies have been promoted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and involve liberalisation of trade flows, deregulation of business and the shrinking of the state through privatisation.

The civil society network maintains that, ‘‘the EPAs have a dangerous and powerful momentum. Undoubtedly the EPAs constitute the most immediate and urgent threat to Africa’’.

The ATN’s position is meaningless to Danquah who argued that, ‘‘African politicians involved with the EPA negotiations are not being given their dues’’.

He said the campaigners were not ‘‘on the ground’’ and do not understand the issues involved. Ghana’s signing of an interim EPA has been ‘‘beneficial’’ to the country: ‘‘We were able to save about 40,000 jobs. In addition to that, over 200 million dollars worth of produce would have suffered if we had not signed.’’

Dot Keet, trade specialist at South Africa’s Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC), refuted Danquah’s claims. African countries displayed their weakness in the negotiation process when they buckled and signed the interim EPAs, she told IPS.

AIDC is a non-governmental organisation which seeks to mobilise people in a search for alternatives to the dominant economic system.

According to Keet, ‘‘those countries that signed the interim agreements were not being firm in their negotiations. The whole thing was an attempt to divide the continent.’’

Citing the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as an example where individual countries went on their own in signing interim agreements, she said that these decisions fragmented SADC.

What was worrying was that, ‘‘officials from some of these countries have said that they knew the agreements were not good but we had to sign’’ because of fears that aid would be withheld, she added.

The ATN contends in a statement that the current global commodities boom ‘‘is a reality that gives African economies more leeway and stronger strategic bargaining positions.

‘‘Commodity market trends also mirror major shifts in world economic power, most notable the rise of new developing countries such as Brazil, India, China and, to a lesser degree, South Africa.

‘‘This offers new opportunities for diversifying Africa’s international economic relations away from the narrow and debilitating reliance on the EU and its markets.

‘‘This is the worst possible time to throw away all these potential openings by locking Africa into an intensified neo-colonial relationship with the EU through the EPAs,’’ according to the statement.

The ATN maintains that ‘‘hundreds of millions of Africa’s producers’’ stand to lose out in every sector of production and exchange if the EPAs come to pass.

The ATN believes it contributed to the failure of the EU to secure the EPAs by the end of 2007. However, the campaign could not ‘‘generate a momentum and an agenda that is sufficiently independent of the negotiation process’’.

This is partly because of ‘‘we are yet to approach a stage where broad layers of trade unionists or fisher folks associate threats to jobs and working conditions with the threat of the EPAs.

‘‘Nor does a critical mass of women’s organisations actively see successful resistance to the EPAs as a potential qualitative turning point in the fight against inequality within and beyond Africa.’’

The campaign’s approach regarding gender was criticised by the Agency for Cooperation and Research (ACORD) Kenya’s gender and conflict manager Awino Okech. She said no effort has been made to tap into the views from women’s movements across the continent.

ACORD is an international alliance of non-governmental organisation promoting social justice.

Trade debates present themselves as ‘‘gender neutral’’ but women should be engaged to voice their concerns on issues, said Okech. She was quick to observe that the nature of the discussions on trade was highly ‘‘technical’’ — all the more reason to involve women’s organisations.