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WTO can’t adjudicate on EPA’s - Lamy

The Statesman, Ghana

WTO can’t adjudicate on EPA’s - Lamy

By Suleiman Mustapha

23 April 2008

Director-General of the World Trade Organisation has said that the world trading body would not legislate on the current bilateral free trade negotiations between the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the European Commission.

This, according to him is the fact that the Economic Partnership Agreement as currently being negotiated is a bilateral trading arrangement between two economic blocks.

"EPA’s as it currently stands is a bilateral discussion and not a multilateral one and so I can not say whether it is good or bad if it is not brought to the WTO", adding that" the WTO will not judge on EPA’s because it has not been notified of the negotiations yet".

Speaking at a news conference at the ongoing United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Accra on Monday, the WTO boss said "the body has jurisdiction over multilateral deals and for bilateral agreements, it has to be brought to our notice for the WTO board to decide"

"I cannot decide alone, it has to be the entire board, and if you ask me whether it is good or bad, I do not know", said the World Trade Director-General.

It would be recalled the Mr Laamy in November last year in Brussels cautioned Trade Ministers of the African, Caribbean States to stay within the multilateral trade regimes of WTO if they are not sure of the dangers of the bilateral negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreements.

He said the world trade body has no position on the sticky and controversial free trade negotiations between the European Union and the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific States.

Speaking at the ACP group of Ministers meeting in Brussels, Mr Laamy said " It is a dangerous ground for me because both sides are pulling me to support their arguments, which I cannot go further in terms of advising you because I’m suppose to be in the middle,".

According to the WTO boss, it is up to the ACP trade Ministers and the European Commission to assess their own risk in negotiating for a free trade arrangement, which he says cannot be quantified due to the risks of litigations after the expiration of the current trade regime in December 31 this year.

"Unilateral trade preferences are accepted by the WTO if they apply to all countries in similar economic circumstances".

’It’s a decision you have to take based on your assessment of your interest in terms of what you gave and what you got", Mr Lamy said.

But a UK-based charity organization, on Monday said the Economic Partnership Agreement due to be signed between the European Union and the African/Caribbean and Pacific countries this year would cost ACP countries nine billion US dollars in tariffs alone if not overhauled.

"EPA has failed to deliver on development for ACP countries and unless the EU overhauls the free trade deals due to be finalized this year, it will do irrevocable damage to the development prospects of some the poorest countries in the world," Oxfam said in a 47-page report titled "Partnership or Power Play."

The report said: "EPA will hurt the poor people and undermine development across the ACP countries if ACP Leaders go ahead and sign it this year."

The EPA proposed complete trade liberalization between the EU and ACP countries with no consideration for ACP countries’ capability to compete fairly.

Already some ACP countries including Ghana had initialled an Interim EPA, under which about 80 per cent of exports from Ghana to the EU and from the EU to Ghana are supposed to go quota-free and duty free.

Giving an overview of the report in a press conference at the ongoing UNCTAD XII conference in Accra, Ms Emily Jones, author of the Oxfam report, said the EPA would lead to a total annual loss of nine billion US dollars in tariffs to ACP countries and US$360 million annual tariff losses to Africa alone.

"Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, which have signed the Interim EPA, stand the risk of losing at least US$83 million dollars a year in tariffs under that interim agreement," she said.

"Obviously six years of negotiations of the EPA has completely failed because the interests of ACP countries have totally been ignored," she said.

Ms. Jones said the EPA would exacerbate the way in which ACP countries were being integrated into the global economy if not stopped and push the 300 million peoples of the ACP countries into worse economic conditions that they faced now.

She argued that through the EPA, the EU sought to open up the economies of ACP countries up for heavily subsidized products from the EU, with very little commitments from the EU itself on how to assist the ACP countries to compete fairly.

She noted that whereas the ACP countries faced serious productions constraints in the products covered under the EPA, the EU on the other hand provided heavy subsidies to its local producers of goods covered under EPA, thereby giving EU producers unfair advantage over their ACP counterparts.

Ms Jones also noted that strict intellectual property rules proposed by the EU in the EPA would deepen the digital divide and challenge traditional farming methods, including seed saving, which was largely practised in the ACP countries.

She therefore proposed that a fair deal for the ACP countries would be for the EU to open up its markets to all exports from the ACP countries without demanding reciprocation.

"Such a move will give the developing countries the policy freedom to govern in the public interest and pursue regional integration on their own terms.

"It will assist the countries to become more competitive, generate decent jobs and access to new technologies," she said.

Ms. Jones, therefore, called on the 25 ACP countries, which have initialled the Interim EPA to pull out saying that at this stage the agreement was not yet binding on them so they could pull out and re-group for a better deal.

Ms Elizabeth Tankeu, African Union Commissioner of Trade and Industry, noted that the Interim EPA signed by some African countries had completely "messed up" regional integration efforts in Africa.

She explained that those African countries, which have signed the EPA Light, did so without recourse to the common interest of the regional blocs, saying that EPA was supposed to have been signed between the EU and regional groupings in Africa and not with individual countries.

"As things are now, what will we be ratifying this year given that some of our member countries are already accessing EPA Light," she asked.