Wednesday, 3 October 2007

EU’s assurances on trade rejected by campaigners

(Eurostep) Anti-poverty campaigners have refused to accept a claim by the European Commission that it is not “steamrolling” African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries into signing free trade deals. On 27 September, some 200 organisations in 40 countries banded together to hold an international day of protest against the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) that the Commission hopes to sign with ACP states by the end of this year.

Peter Mandelson and Louis Michel, the European commissioners for trade and development aid respectively, issued a statement, which attempted to refute some of the arguments against the EPAs that their officials have drafted. The commissioners said that the EPA negotiations are “certainly not about EU companies and investment muscling into these markets”. “In fact, if we exclude South Africa, we trade less with all of sub-Saharan Africa than we do with South Korea alone,” the commissioners added. They also denied that they are ‘steamrolling’ ACP countries into signing accords by 31 December, insisting instead that they are “doing everything in our power to be as flexible as they can”. Still, they warned that steep tariffs would be imposed on imports from the ACP if the deadline is not reached.

Oxfam spokesman Alexander Woolcombe argued that the Commission’s assurances were not consistent with its demands that the EPAs cover topics such as terms of investment for Western firms and opening up the public procurement markets of poor countries. The ACP side has asked repeatedly that such issues should be taken off the agenda. “Very few ACP countries will be ready to sign an EPA by the end of this year and must not be coerced into doing so,” said Woolcombe.

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