Sunday, October 19, 2008

EU still targeting poorest nations for inclusion in EPAs

Robins, Teresa; Inter Press Service (Seville) 2008-07-16

The European Commission (EC) is still targeting least developed countries (LDCs) which have thus far resisted the economic partnership agreements (EPAs) by opting rather for the ‘Everything But Arms’ trade preference scheme.

According to academic and EPAs expert Dr Ainhoa MarĂ­n Egoscozabal, member of the Africa study group at the Autonomous University of Madrid, “those countries that have signed the interim EPAs have to serve as an example to those that have stuck to the Everything But Arms initiative”.

Around 25 LDCs from Africa have yet to initial interim EPAs. The widely held view from civil society has been that it is unnecessary for such countries to enter into the agreements because the Everything But Arms scheme provides them with the necessary preferential trade access to the European markets.

The EPAs have consistently been criticised as being potentially detrimental to development.

Sixty one members of the European Parliament from 16 different countries voted for more flexibility and more time for the EPA talks last month, a sentiment echoed by many of those involved in the process. Although the Netherlands and Denmark are recommending renegotiation, the European Union (EU) has been pressing ahead.

In terms of those African nations that are contemplating using the Everything But Arms trade regime instead of the EPAs, Intermon-Oxfam feels that this has to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Intermon-Oxfam is the Oxfam International chapter in Spain, a network of non-governmental organisations working towards solutions to poverty and injustice.

According to Javier Perez, senior trade policy researcher at Intermon-Oxfam, “the European Union’s credibility as a whole is at risk. For African countries it is hard to understand the two faces of the EU. Important voices, such as Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and the African Union [AU], have asserted that they cannot trust the EU when it says it is looking after African interest.”

“At Intermon-Oxfam we still hope to get as many EU member states as possible to understand that a fair relationship with the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific countries) is needed and that the EPAs fail on that. Spain is only one voice within the EU but you never know when or where a change of individual position may lead. We want to show the alternatives and press for their consideration”, Perez said.

The ‘most favoured nation’ (MFN) clause in the EPAs will hamper any potential South-South trading abilities, says Intermon-Oxfam. The clause requires that African states extend trade preferences from agreements entered into with other nations subsequent to the EPAs.

Perez continued: “Our overall position is that an alternative to EPAs is needed. A bad agreement is worse than no agreement at all. Furthermore, the negotiations as they stand risk halting the regional integration processes which is key to the real incorporation of these countries into the global economy.”

The EU needs to fulfil its commitment not to continue with trade deals that will leave ACP nations worse off. Perez argued that there are many options, provided there is the necessary political will. “This process cannot be done in a rush. There is too much at stake.”

Egoscozabal said that there is a perception that the EC is driving a commercial agenda and has adopted “an excessively hard and hardly flexible” approach with the EPAs. Brussels has repeatedly rejected calls, mainly from African countries, to extend the negotiation period for the EPAs.

According to Egoscozabal, the inclusion of the MFN clause is aimed at setting in place a legal guarantee that European countries will not receive inferior treatment compared to companies from large emerging countries. She argued that the EC still seeks to reinforce African processes of regional integration.