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Undercutting Africa

Trade Negotiations Insights | February 2009

Undercutting Africa

Why EPAs threaten the world’s forests and forest peoples

by Ronnie Hall

The year 2009 will be one of change for the European Union, which will have a new Parliament and new Commissioners in place by November. Perhaps then, it will also be a year in which the EU abandons its aggressive Global Europe and Raw Materials policies, stops using Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations to further its trade interests, and revitalises its rapidly deteriorating relationship with ACP countries. Urgent action is needed on all three fronts, not least because of the severe impacts that EPAs are likely to have on the world’s poor and its biodiversity, including forests and forest-dependent communities.

One key concern is the inclusion of investment liberalization in the Caribbean EPA, which explicitly refers to investment in forests, mining, and agriculture: other ACP countries will undoubtedly be expected to follow suit. If they do, however, they will have to hand over more rights to foreign corporations to exploit forests, fisheries, agriculture, and other natural resources such as oil and gas, which could in turn lead to even more forests and small farms being cleared to make way for logging, mining, and export-oriented agriculture. Recent analysis shows that measures - such as Ghana’s restrictions ensuring local involvement in mineral and oil projects, and Cameroon’s policy of only issuing forest exploitation licences to residents or companies headquartered in Cameroon - could be at risk under the terms of the interim Economic Partnership Agreements (IEPAs) they have initialled.

The EU is also determined to remove export restrictions. The European Commission views these as unfair impediments to its manufacturing industries, implying that Europe should have an equal right to exploit other nations’ natural resources. Yet this flies in the face of the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which states that “All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic cooperation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.”

Measures that countries use to limit or prohibit exports of raw materials include log export bans, export quotas and taxes, selective bans on particular species, and harvesting limits. Ghana has managed to protect its round wood and log exports ban, but is virtually alone in this respect. Neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire could be asked to remove its quantitative log export restrictions under the terms of its newly signed ‘stepping stone’ EPA; and Cameroon’s species log export bans, export permits, and restrictions ensuring that logs are processed on site, could also be challenged under its IEPA.

So why is the EU pursuing such a harsh liberalization agenda? The answer can be found in its Global Europe policy documents, which reveal an overriding fear that emerging economies will out-compete Europe, and a desire to maintain material inputs for European manufacturing. Thus, trade must be prioritised at all costs, and EPAs have been hijacked to this end even though the EU is aware of the negative social and environmental consequences of this course of action.

The European Commission’s own mid-term Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) [1], for example, comments that “trade liberalization and the economic pressure that it encourages threaten biodiversity in a number of ways” including through increasing illegal trade in endangered species, facilitating the introduction of alien invasive species, permitting the continued destruction and fragmentation of habitats, and because of increasing industrial and agricultural activities. It specifically identPWC (2003). Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) of Trade Negotiations of the EU-ACP Economic Partnership Agreements, working draft, 1 October 2003, PricewaterhouseCoopers: download/summarized_mid-term_report_final_doc_ light.pdf.ifies West Africa as a vulnerable region, commenting that additional pressure on primary forests in countries like Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire “seems difficult.”

It is surprising then that the final summary report from the European Commission’s SIA on EPAs [2] makes no mention of potential impacts on forests at all; biodiversity is only mentioned once (in relation to tourism in the Caribbean). It seems that some very serious potential environmental and social concerns are being overlooked, whether by accident or design, in the rush to finalize EPAs.

Change is long overdue. The EPA negotiations should be stopped, and those agreements already initialled, repealed. The EU should focus on developing a real, equitable partnership with the ACP, ensuring financial and practical support to ACP countries to develop fair and sustainable societies.

ACP countries should be able to maintain their sovereignty and policy space, including in relation to the appropriate use of their own natural resources. The EU certainly has no automatic right of access to other countries’ raw materials; rather, it should implement a full and immediate review of its trade strategy, placing sustainable development for the poor and their environment at the top of its agenda, and delinking Europe’s economy from excessive resource use and fossil fuel dependence. There should be no need to usurp Africa’s natural resources.

Author: Ronnie Hall, consultant, is author of the Friends of the Earth report “Undercutting Africa: why EPAs threaten the world’s forests and forest peoples.” It is available in full at: reports/undercutting_africa.pdf


[2PWC (2007). Sustainability Impact Assessment of the EU-ACP Economic Partnership Agreements, Summary of key findings, policy recommendations and lessons learned, PricewaterhouseCoopers: extweb/pwcpublications.nsf/docid/43B1554F067FF2AE 8525738A006E6FD6.

 source: TNI