BRUSSELS (IPS/GIN) – A new report commissioned by the French government is expected to fault the European Commission for pushing trade agreements with African and Caribbean countries that ignore social and economic development needs.
In the report by Christiane Taubira of the French national assembly, she recommends that the mandate given to the 27-member European Commission to negotiate economic partnership agreements with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries be amended.
Presented to Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, in mid-June but not yet published, Ms. Taubira’s 191-page report contains strong criticisms of efforts made by the commission to persuade African countries to scrap most of the taxes they levy on imports from Europe.
Noting that many African, Caribbean and Pacific countries depend on customs duties for almost 40 percent of their revenues, she argues that the agreements could render many of the national institutions in Africa “powerless.”
And while the commission has presented the economic partnership agreements as an opportunity for Africa to increase its exports to Europe, Ms. Taubira complains that the high food safety standards applying in the EU “constitute more effective obstacles than tariffs” for farmers and companies wishing to do business with the union.
Her report also suggests that the economic partnership agreements could fundamentally alter the political relationship between European countries and their former colonies.
Under the Cotonou agreement signed between the EU and the states in 2000, the EU undertakes to help lift the states out of poverty. Ms. Taubira said, however, that the EU should now state if it has decided to “abandon development as if it was a dangerous mirage and invite the ACP countries to throw themselves into the big bazaar of free trade.”
Ms. Taubira’s report was commissioned by France in April in preparation for its six-month stint chairing meetings of the EU’s governments, which began on July 1. It follows concerns raised in private by French diplomats to the European Commission over recent months.
Although the commission has been arguing that at least 80 percent of tariffs imposed by African, Caribbean and Pacific countries on European goods should be scrapped, the French officials have recommended that the extent of trade liberalization sought should be narrower in scope.
Thirty-five of nearly 80 countries involved in the trade negotiations signed agreements before an end-of-2007 deadline set by the commission. Yet most of these accords were described as “interim” because they relate to trade in goods rather than a range of “new issues” under discussion.
As a result, it was decided that the EPA talks should continue into this year, with EU officials conceding there is a strong likelihood they will take place in 2009 as well.
Other recommendations made by Ms. Taubira include that the EU recognizes the right of poor countries to feed themselves by allowing them to exclude agricultural goods from trade liberalization.
She urges, too, that development aid offered by the EU should not be made conditional on the signature of economic partnership agreements. The “new issues” of investment, competition policy and public procurement should be removed from the agenda. Many countries had opposed the inclusion of those issues, yet the EU was adamant that they should be covered.
Oxfam, the anti-poverty non-governmental organization, welcomed the report.
Jean-Denis Crola, of Oxfam’s Paris office, said that the European Commission had used “immoderate pressure” in the negotiations by threatening to cut aid to countries and increase taxes on their exports to Europe if they did not sign the agreements.
Caribbean survival through unity and federation (FCN, 04-13-2007)
The impoverishment of Black Africa (FCN, 12-08-2003)
The IMF enslavement of Black Africa (FCN, 11-24-2003)
The IMF Moves Against West Africa’s Monetary Union (BlackElectorate.com)