April 2008

Vol 7 - No. 10
 

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Letter from Europe | April 2008

 


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NGOs Confront EU Over Regional Deals

BY RAMESH JAURA IDN *

On his arrival at a Joint Parliamentary Assembly of EU and ACP countries in Slovenian capital Ljubljana in third week of March, EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel was confronted with an array of parliamentarians and civil society activists carrying the message, 'Brussels-made EPAs will not fit ACPs'.

"I do not agree with you," countered Michel. "If you want to remain poor, just be against the EPAs."

According to eyewitnesses, an obviously agitated Michel left the protest area, advising the gathering: "Read the Commission's brochure on the EPAs for more information."

Though Michel is said to be fond of giving such advice whenever faced with critical questions, Europe is still failing developing countries on trade and aid.

Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are being negotiated between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of nations in the absence of a global world trade accord. The EPAs have become hugely controversial because many ACP nations say the EU is looking to prise open their markets to sell its goods, while giving little in return.

The Joint Parliamentary Assembly brought together 78 members of the European Parliament and 78 members of parliaments from the ACP countries.

Civil society organisations participating in the Joint Parliamentary Assembly included the European NGO, Confederation for Relief and Development (CONCORD), the Slovenian Platform for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid (SLOGA), the Eastern Africa Farmers' Federation (EAFF) and the Eastern Southern African Small-Scale Farmers' Forum (ESAFF).

Members of local farmer organisations from Africa also travelled to Slovenia to make their voices heard. They reminded the Assembly that over two-thirds of those who are hungry around the world are farmers.

"EPAs should not threaten our livelihoods, they should protect them. In their current form, the agreements expose us to unfair and harsh competition," said Elisabeth Mpofu, representing farmers from ACP countries.

Transparency is another important issue in the controversy about the EPAs. MPs from ACP countries and members of civil society organisations are outraged at the lack of sufficient consultation.

"The negotiations on EPAs have to a large extent taken place behind closed doors. We want to see ACP countries in the driving seat on trade. This can only be guaranteed if elected MPs and the wider civil society is fully involved in this process," said Marjan Huc of SLOGA.

"The poor are tired, there are too many hungry people in this world. The Commissioner should listen to the poorest in the world," said Ibrahim Nouhoum, also from SLOGA. Slovenia holds rotating presidency of the EU for the first half of this year.

The view that the EU is failing developing countries is widely accepted outside the EU Commission, and it continues to hold ground also after the EU-ACP Joint Parliamentary Assembly this week.

"After five years of negotiations on the EPAs, the European Commission has very little to show," says Marc Maes of 11.11.11 and Chair of ACP Trade Working Group at CONCORD.

"Europe has been reinforcing its internal market for 50 years. ACP countries cannot be expected to do this in five years," says Maes.

This is not the only reason to reject EPAs. The EPAs need to be discarded also because they were concluded in haste and under a great deal of pressure from the European Commission, says Maes. Besides, only 15 of the 78 ACP countries had concluded an agreement with the EU by Dec. 31 -- the deadline for signing the EPAs.

Some of those that did say they acted under pressure. Louis Straker, a member of parliament from St Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean told a CONCORD meeting Monday: "If we had not signed up to the EPAs, we would have been subjected to much higher tariffs. We had no choice."

Ramesh Jaura is chief editor of the Globalom Media group, president of Euforic-Europe's Forum on International Cooperation in Maastricht (The Netherlands) and Director of IPS-Inter Press Service Europe in Berlin.

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