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21.02.2007 General News

Don’t Exert Pressure On EPA Pact - NGOs Tells European Commission

A coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has called on the European Commission to stop exerting pressure on Africa to agree to new trade relationships by the end of the year.

According to the NGOs which included 11.11.11, Action Aid, Bread for the World, Church Development Service, Oxfam International and Enda, the current proposals would have very damaging implications for the development of developing countries.

The warning follows a meeting of UN experts, African Trade Ministers and civil society representatives in Nairobi in which a review of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) was discussed.

The review, carried out by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and endorsed by the African Union Trade Ministers, concluded that none of the four African regions had sufficient information or were adequately prepared to finalise deals in time for the official deadline of December 31, 2007.

It also raised strong concerns about the capacity of developing countries to implement the EPAs and highlighted an “alarming lack of transparency” in the negotiations.

Despite the clearly articulated concerns of African negotiators and observers on content and process, and a stated commitment that no country would be compelled to sign an EPA, the European Commission has been playing hardball over recent weeks, refusing to grant extra time, and issuing warnings about the negative results of not signing.

For example, West and Central African negotiators were told last week by EU Commissioners, Messrs Peter Mandelson and Louis Michel, that higher import duties would be re-imposed if EPAs were not concluded by December 31, 2007.

In addition, promises of aid are being made conditional on the agreement of an EPA.

“This is tantamount to blackmail”, said Bibiane Mbaye of Enda.

“The EU is committed to ensuring that alternatives to EPAs are discussed, and that no country will be compelled to sign. However, now they are using the looming deadline to force countries into agreements that could be economically devastating”.

Mr Luis Morago of Oxfam International said “instead of actively seeking ways to extend the deadline and ensure development-friendly deals, they are turning the screws on the African countries, and pushing them into agreements that will hurt poor farmers and undermine future industrial development”.

“The EC is trying to side-step a 'real' development deal by bullying African-Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries with threats of higher import duties,” said Angela Wauye of ActionAid.

The Cotonou Agreement clearly states that no ACP country should be compelled to sign and be worse off as a result of the negotiations”.

The coalition has therefore urged ACP states to pay more attention to the non-transparent way in which the EPAs were being negotiated and the potentially negative impact on development.

It said member states should ensure that the commission extended trade preferences at the end of 2007, if EPA negotiations had not been concluded, and that they should ensure that countries had sufficient information on the impact of an EPA to make an informed and pro-development decision.

According to the NGOs, other alternatives to EPAs must be fully explored.

Source - Business Desk

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