Friday, 21 September 2007

EU Ministers must put brakes on reckless trade deals, says Oxfam

EU Development Ministers meeting in Funchal (Madeira) today and tomorrow should demand that Peter Mandelson scraps current proposals for free trade deals with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries because they will undermine poverty reduction, said Oxfam. As the 31st December deadline approaches for the so-called 'Economic Partnership Agreements' (EPAs) to be finalised, major differences remain and concerns about the development implications are growing. Oxfam and other NGOs are urging Ministers to advise the Commission to stop pushing ACP countries to agree to the current proposals by the end of the year. Uncertainty over what will happen in January is already threatening jobs in ACP countries. But according to the agenda, the meeting in Funchal (Madeira), hailed as a milestone in the field of development cooperation by the Portuguese Presidency, will not deal explicitly with EPA negotiations.

Last week, Peter Mandelson said that in the absence of an agreement, the Commission would be forced to raise tariffs. This move would have a disastrous impact on industries such as fisheries and horticulture in developing countries. The Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya responded by saying, "it is essential that horticultural trade is not disrupted. Once the orders are lost it will be almost impossible to regain our hard-won market share."

Despite the concerns of EU Member States, ACP governments, independent experts and civil society observers, the European Commission (EC) continues to insist that Economic Partnership Agreements negotiations should continue as before. Calls for an extension of talks or discussion of alternatives continue to fall on deaf ears, even though in key areas talks remain blocked. Perfectly feasible interim solutions that could take pressure off the deadline (such as the enhanced Generalised System of Preferences, known as GSP+) continue to be disregarded as the EC maintains that EPAs are the only possible option.

Unable to convince the ACP through negotiations, the EC has resorted to unfair pressure. For example, the day before a major meeting of Pacific Trade negotiators in July in Vanuatu, an EC official sent an email stating that the Pacific's allocation of European aid would be cut by 48% if it did not sign up to an EPA. Luis Morago, Head of Oxfam International's Brussels Office said: "Threats to withhold aid and increase tariffs on ACP exports have not helped move the negotiations on but simply piled on the pressure in an entirely unjust way."

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