When he took office, the new European Trade Commissioner, Rt Hon Peter Mandelson, declared that his mission was to make trade fair for the many, and to ensure that the poorest have a share in rising global prosperity. We share the belief that fair trade can be a vital force in the fight against global poverty. We are unconvinced, however, that the current Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations will produce such an outcome.
Our concerns are fourfold:
We challenge the UK Government to ensure that it uses its Presidency of the EU to turn these negotiations around, to dispel our disquiet, and to guarantee that the poorest countries have real choices to enable them to use trade for their own development. We challenge the EU to make poverty reduction the primary goal of the EPA negotiations.
- There is a lack of public scrutiny over the negotiation process between one of the world’s more powerful economic actors, the EU, and 79 of the world’s poorest economies, the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states (ACP). Outside of a small trade circle, very little notice is being taken of these negotiations which are running parallel to the WTO’s Doha ‘development’ round.
- The negotiations will fundamentally alter the trade relationship between the EU and the ACP. In particular, the ACP group, which used to be the most preferred trading partner of the EU, will be moving from non-reciprocal preferential access to reciprocal trading arrangements with the EU. Because of slow progress at the WTO, the EU cannot guarantee to offer the ACP states consideration of their development status in these new Partnership Agreements. Without special and differential treatment, the agreements will not be fair.
- In direct contrast to the current WTO Doha ‘development’ round negotiations, no similar commitment to development has been made by the EU in the EPA negotiations. If the EU is committed to poverty reduction, trade agreements with developing countries must be negotiated with this as their main objective. This means that any agreement offered to the ACP must have a developmental component; should not conflict with regional integration processes; should not demand liberalisation in sectors where the EU has not itself liberalised; and should not seek to put onto the agenda in regional negotiations, issues which the ACP group has previously rejected at the all ACP level.
- Finally, we are concerned that the EU is approaching the negotiations with the ACP as if they were a game of poker. The Commission is refusing to lay its cards on the table and to dispel the ACP’s fear that it stands to lose more than it will gain. While this may be acceptable behaviour for partners with comparable hands, it is unnecessary and unwelcome in the current negotiations. The ACP is negotiating under considerable duress and the EU approach emphasizes the unequal nature of the negotiation process. If the negotiations are to be successful, these worst fears have to be allayed now.