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Letter to EU trade commissioner Mandelson on interim agreements with ACP countries

The letter expresses concern about undue pressure exerted by the European Union on African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to sign interim Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by the end of the year.

06 December 2007

Ref: EU should not exert pressure on ACP countries to sign EPAs

Dear Mr Mandelson,

We have been monitoring the ongoing negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements between EU and ACP countries.

The WCC is concerned about the ongoing pressure exerted by the European Union on African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to sign interim Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by December 31st 2007. The pressure involves  putting conditions on ACP countries to form themselves into blocs that can sign such agreements. For instance the East African Community (EAC) has just signed such an agreement which will replace preferential trade agreements due to expire on December 31st 2007. This is the first international agreement to be concluded by the EAC as a block as well as the first trade agreement concluded by the European Union with another customs union. The EAC states will be obliged to open up their markets to goods from the European Union over a period of 25 years. After 15 years, 80  percent of the exports from EU will enter the EAC market free of duties. This mainly covers goods and services. About one fifth of EAC trade will be completely excluded from any market liberalization requirements.

The agreement, it is claimed, is a first step towards a full Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which will further integrate the EAC into the global economy. Negotiations will continue next year with a view to concluding a comprehensive EPA not later than July 2009.

The EU is working on similar negotiations  with other ACP countries. Some of them have resisted  being put  under pressure on the following grounds:

  • The time is too short to include parliamentary discussions on interim agreements to take place in these countries.
  • The interim agreements contain  issues which are still contentious. Such issues are not consistent with the Doha round on development, poverty eradication and rights to food.
  • The coercive approach adopted by the EU on service liberalization poisons the negotiating atmosphere. There is strong opposition to include new generation issues which include liberalization of services, sector investments, competitions policy and intellectual property rights.
  • EPAs do not have to have these issues to be compatible with WTO rules.
  • It is prudent to have the necessary legal frameworks and infrastructure in place prior to opening up local markets to competition with European companies.
  • For EPAs to be successful, the preconditions should include domestic legal, administrative and regulatory capacities.
  • There is an imminent danger that the interim EPAs will result in a loss of  revenue  for these countries need for poverty eradication.
  • EPAs are meant to enhance development. Demands for the liberalization of services will defeat that objective according to South African Development Community ( SADC).

The WCC supports  ACP countries in their efforts to negotiate equitable EPAs in a timeframe that is agreeable to all parties. The WCC strongly  identifies itself with the joint statements given by the All African Conference of Churches and the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) to oppose the use of pressure on ACP to sign interim EPAs. The WCC also agrees with the statement given by the Conference of European Churches on the same subject.

Just trade, poverty eradication, right to food, dignity of human life  and ecological sustainability should be the criteria for any trade agreement. Negotiations between EU and ACP countries should not be based on pressure and threats but on fairness that serves to redress historical and structural links between the EU and ACP countries.  The WCC calls for adequate time to be allocated to ACP countries for appropriate discussion of EPAs in their parliaments so as to hear the voices of the people in these countries. We shall appreciate to receive your response regarding our concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General secretary