African and European governments urged to find alternatives to EPAs

The European Union (EU) and African government must "seriously pursue alternatives” to the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) currently under negotiation, urged this week civil society organizations from both continents. The groups convened in Nairobi by the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Ngombe na Mahindi Foundation (NGOMA) and Ecofair Trade Dialog stated their “firm position” that trade must “serve sustainable development”, “uphold human rights”, and “cater for small-scale producers that form the backbone of African economies.”

“After 10 years of negotiations, we are more than convinced that the logic of EPAs is detrimental to Africa’s development needs,” reads a statement, also signed by the Prague Global Policy Institute (Glopolis), the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Misereor. “We have decided to reinvigorate our fight against EPAs and reassert that EPAs must not be concluded,” the organizations added, according to the text published by the Third World Network-Africa (TWN-A).

These agreements are being negotiated by the European Union, with four groups of African countries, the Caribbean and the Pacific countries. EPA negotiations started in 2002 and were due to be concluded by 31 December 2007 and envisaged to enter into force on 1 January 2008m but deadline was shifted to 2014.

The agreement was bent on stifling the production capacities of those already underprivileged countries, said at the meeting Andrew Odete, coordinator of Trade Justice and Judicial Reforms at the Kenya Human Rights Commission. The EPAs, he added, are set to give the EU smooth trade as the negotiations are non-appreciative of the inequalities on the respective levels of developments between the two trading blocs.

“These inequalities should actually form the premise of any negotiations between the two communities unless the government is not championing for trade reciprocity,” Odete argued. The more robust and advanced European economies “receive government subsidies and thus any trade would result into a lopsided arrangement rendering us unable to compete on a fair and equal footing,” the expert concluded.

On her turn, Helen Yego, secretary of NGOMA, an umbrella Kenyan network of small scale farmers, said that liberal markets limit local farmers and products and should be abolished. “Despite fluctuation of prices, the imports pose a threat to one’s health,” she Yego.

Yego advised the Kenyan government to start prioritizing agricultural industries, supporting infrastructure right at the grassroots level, fast-tracking compensation mechanisms against loses accruing from natural disasters, and introducing subsidies. The expert argued that any sovereign country has the prerogative to protect all its citizens regardless of their status.

The European and African civil society organization’s statement reads as follows:


Nairobi Statement on EPAs

We, the undersigned civil society organizations from Africa and Europe, gathered in Kenya on 13-16 November 2012 at the invitation of NGOMA and Kenya Human Rights Commission as well as Ecofair Trade Dialogue. We assessed the state of play of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations and discussed proposals for the way forward.

We have the firm position that trade agreements must serve sustainable development and uphold human rights. Trade agreements must also cater for small-scale producers that form the backbone of African economies. Regional integration and structural transformation are key avenues towards achieving these goals.

After 10 years of negotiations, we are more than convinced that the logic of EPAs is detrimental to Africa’s development needs, [for example EPAs undermine the Africa Mining Vision]. Unanimously, we have decided to reinvigorate our fight against EPAs and reassert that EPAs must not be concluded.

We strongly urge our governments to seriously pursue alternatives to EPAs. These include the:

■ Prioritization of deeper of African regional integration;

■ Consideration of regional mechanisms to compensate for the loss of EU trade preferences to non-LDCs within a region, for example a solidarity fund as adopted by ECOWAS trade ministers in December 2011;

■ Enhancement of Everything But Arms (EBA) in line with the AU trade preferences proposal adopted by African trade ministers in December 2011;

■ Opting for EU GSP+ [EU GSP+ refers to the ‘special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance’ within the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences. EU GSP+ covers the bulk of Africa’s exports].

We are particularly concerned by the recent developments in the East African Community EPA negotiations. The consolidated negotiation text, as it currently stands, does not address the contentious issues as identified by the ACP Council in 2007 and African Union trade ministers in 2008. In fact, most of the contentious issues have not been amended at all while others have worsened. Moreover new issues have been put on the table by the European Commission that bear no relations to the development needs of the region [for instance, the so called ‘Turkey Clause’ demanding a commitment from ACP countries to negotiate a free trade agreement with countries that are in a customs union with the European Union, including Turkey].

In the new rendezvous clause [a rendezvous clause prescribes what additional issues the parties continue to negotiate after the conclusion of an agreement], accepted by the EAC in May 2012, the region commits to negotiate and conclude within a specific timeframe negotiations on services, investment, government procurement, trade and sustainable development, intellectual property rights and competition policy. This unprecedented commitment is neither required by the Cotonou Agreement [the basic association agreement between the EU and the ACP countries signed in Cotonou in 2000] nor for WTO-compatibility. These issues will further shrink the policy space needed for sustainable development and each of them has particular impacts on value addition, small scale farming and food security.

The Cotonou Agreement states that the Partnership between EU and ACP countries ‘shall actively support the promotion of human rights’ including the right to food. It is imperative that trade policies do not undermine the livelihoods and the social, economic and cultural rights of small-scale farmers and agro-processers, pastoralists, fisher folk, foresters and agricultural workers. They form the basis for any meaningful sustainable development strategy. Trade policy should actively safeguard and support agriculture and the diversity of food chains.

The neoliberal logic underpinning EPAs has been discredited by the interlinked global crises (food, energy, financial, environment, unemployment). Countries should not sign trade agreements – including EPAs – that limit policy space or reduce resilience to global crises. Evidently, countries have to craft alternative trade policies that are more sustainable and equitable.

For these reasons we demand that our governments stop EPA negotiations and pursue alternatives.

Nairobi, 16 November 2012




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