Can economic partnership agreements be stopped?
06 June 2012
One of the major challenges facing global justice campaigners today is stopping Europe forcing 'economic partnership agreements' (EPAs) on African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.
Under the EU proposals a number of poor countries will be barred from using many of the policy measures Europe itself used to develop. For example, these countries will have to gradually reduce their import tariffs which are already far lower than most developed countries at similar stages in their development. The EU is also pushing for restrictive intellectual property rules which will keep control of advanced technologies (including AIDS medicines, for example) in the hands of European companies. We therefore see, as Oxfam has noted, that the word 'partnership' in the name 'economic partnership agreements' is extremely misleading. In fact, the deals are the exact opposite of partnerships, being carefully designed to allow Europe to continue the exploitation and control of poor countries.
It should be added that the word 'agreements' is also misleading, at least if we include the opinions of the populations in EU and ACP countries. Most people have never heard of the deals and cannot therefore be said to be in 'agreement'. Meanwhile. as far as can be judged, it seems that those who are aware of the deals, apart from elite EU interests, are extremely critical. For example, in the UK, anti-poverty organisations including Traidcraft and Oxfam, as well as the TUC have all produced critical reports on the proposals. African governments and civil society groups have also been openly critical.
This widespread resistance, especially from African governments, has meant Europe has only had limited success in pushing the EPAs so far. It has only been able to push through 'interim EPAs' with some countries (still harmful enough but covering just tariffs and not other areas) and has also had to allow ‘market access regulation’ (MAR) as a stop-gap for other countries. However, the EU is now threatening to remove the MAR as a stop-gap in 2014 meaning that many more countries will be forced into interim and possibly full-EPAs.
In this context a coordinated response from UK and EU campaigners is more important than ever. There are already some moves from UK groups. For example, Traidcraft has a petition on its website asking MEP David Martin to oppose European moves to withdraw the MAR stop-gap. Furthermore, the Trade Justice Movement will be part of the new European Alternative Trade Mandate Alliance (ATMA) which will seek to transform EU trade policy. This conference could be very important to the future of ACP countries. If the alliance can lay the foundation of a powerful, well focused campaign, they may be able to stop and roll back EPAs. If they cannot, ACP countries could be condemned to another lost generation of development.