The European Union Commissioner on Trade, Mr. Peter Mandelson's statement, carried by the Accra, Ghana-based “The Ghanaian Chronicle” and the Washington-based “AllAfrica.com” (March 13, 2007), that the much-touted Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) for African and Caribbean Pacific (ACP) countries will help protect ACP producers' markets and help boost regional trade is more complicated than what Mr. Mandelson envisaged. At the heart of the intended protection is power, historical and structural issues and how this is to help Africa's development process. If for practical reasons, the ACP's EPAs are to work, it will need more work out from the many regional groupings in Africa and in terms of its regional orientation, more retooling from the African side for historical and structural perspectives. This means moving beyond the goal of strengthening Africa's domestic and regional markets and disentangling the historical and structural forces that have made African trade in the international realm difficult and which has affected Africa's development process.
How complicated the EPAs are and how simplistic Mr. Mandelson view the EPAs is seen in Stephen R. Hurt's Co-operation or Coercion? The Cotonou Agreement Between the European Union and ACP States and the End of the Lome Convention (2003). Hurt argues, more from neo-Gramscian perspectives, that's the dominance of one group (here the European Union) over other groups (here the African and Caribbean Pacific states) to the extent of dictating the terms of trade to its advantage, makes the ACP's EPAs more of coercion than co-operation. Still, this makes the EPAs, argues Hurt, “hegemonic dominance of European neo-liberalism within political elites” to the detriment of the intended African regional structures.
The fact the EPAs is a European Union made trade policy for the ACP countries has an historically power problem and this notion is burdened by the complicated structural problems on the ground in Africa, with many regional organizations that the EPAs have to confront if it is to allow ACP states grow and “develop sufficient strength to compete more widely,” as Mr. Mandelson says. How the EPAs will help African trade grow has to be pinned in the historically and structural context and Mr. Mandelson's didn't get it, a throwback to the “whiteman's burden” syndrome. The EPAs are the offshoots of the failures of EU's Official Development Assistance (ODA), making the EU shift from foreign aid to foreign trade in its attempts to help alleviate poverty or foster prosperity in the developing countries, especially Africa. Evan Osborne's Rethinking Foreign Aid (2002) argues that the ODA should be redefined, hence the EPAs. Hurt says trade agreements, which can come in the form of ODA, are riddled with so much jargons and technicalities that it's not only difficult to understand but far from daily concerns of the ordinary man/woman on the streets of Freetown or Accra. Hurt, therefore, offers that most of the talks over the EPAs between the ACP states and the EU are no different, reflecting the fact that it is far, far removed from the practical complexities of solving the everyday economic concerns of the man or woman on the streets of Monrovia or Nairobi. Despite the apparent shifting of relationship between Africa and the EU, the forces driving trade talks (here pretty much the EPAs) are informed by historical nuances, and this shapes how any EPAs impact on development prospects. The non-reciprocity in trade agreement between ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement is a pointer to changes in the EU development policy.
Today's pronunciations on trade, and the related relative decline of European Union aid going to Africa, represents a reversal of the approach adopted in the early years of the relationship, where foreign aid was dominant. Of particular note here is France de-linking its Franc, in the dawn of the Euro, from the African CFA and touting of foreign trade against foreign aid. As Christopher Stevens indicates in The EU, Africa and Economic Partnership Agreements: Unintended Consequences of Policy (2006), despites its EPAs complexities the new thinking is that the EU-driven EPAs, made in line with World Trade Organization (WTO) guidelines, is expected to resolve the limitations of the Lome and Cotonou agreements and help enhance regional trade in a more reciprocity regime that will help deepen the dawn of foreign trade over foreign aid in the ACP countries.
The attempts are to let African countries improve upon their macro-economic regimes, though this will demand more open markets for African products in the EU. Such need for broader discipline is captured by Jennifer Clapp in WTO Agricultural Trade Battles and Food Aid (2004), which reveals the running battles between the United States and EU over whether the WTO should impose disciplines on food aid and agricultural export credits, especially how this will impact on developing countries such as Africa, more so in the wake of the United States' Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The conviction is that the GM food aid from the U.S will harm ACP countries' exports to the EU markets. Despite this development, historical ties rather than need hover behind, determining preferential trade and aid relations between Africa and the EU, though trade negotiations are assuming regional character, as Stevens (2006) explains.
The EPAs sees Africa as weakness, making the prominent French Africanist, Jean-Francois Bayart in Commentary: Towards A New Start for Africa and Europe (2004) argue that the entire EU trade policy towards Africa is feeble and jumbled, an indication of lack of understanding of the Africa environment. Such misunderstandings made the EU pushed on Africa in the 1980s and 1990s the suicidal Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) formulated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that resulted in economic crisis. SAP was largely financed by European states in their role as major shareholders of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund within the framework of their neo-liberal paradigms that aim to develop Africa but did not factor in Africa's norms, values and traditions. In SAP, African states suffered massively not only in economic terms but also the very stability of the countries became threatened. Confused, the EU hatched SAP with human face, ostensibly to mitigate its hash effects on Africans.
For broader effects and the need for Africans to view the EPAs from their history and environment, Bayart argues that, “In reality, the problem for Europeans is of a philosophical and cultural nature. Europeans still have great difficulty in seeing in Africa countries like any others: they show 'little appreciation of the fact that they are ordinary,' They relegate Africa to the classic categories of barbarism or to the newspeak of 'development', 'the elimination of poverty' or 'humanitarian aid'” (p.458). In this sense, Mandelson's statement of helping to build African regional markets through the EPAs in the long term will need not only a new mind-set about Africa and its development process from a new historical and structural settings but, for practical reasons, how to fit the priorities and principles of sustainable development in the EPAs.
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