NGOs have today criticised the EU for its aggressive position in the bi-regional trade and political negotiations with Central America. Last week, the first official round of negotiations between the European Union (EU) and Central American countries begun in San José, Costa Rica, with the view of establishing a comprehensive “Association Agreement” between both regions, covering trade, political dialogue and cooperation aspects. Luis Guillermo Perez, Executive Secretary at CIFCA, said: "These negotiations are a risky gamble for Central America. There are enormous institutional, commercial, cultural and developmental imbalances between the two regions, yet the EU insists on applying a one-size-fits-all approach in the negotiations. In such a scenario, European interests will be best served, while Central Americans will be the net losers".
Stepping away from its traditional multilateral approach, the EU is currently negotiating a series of bilateral agreements with various countries and regions in the world. These agreements all include provisions for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Past experiences of FTAs between rich and developing countries have shown these agreements are not a win-win game: "They create winners and losers - and the losers are often the poor and marginalized groups as well as the environment", declared Camilo Tovar, representative of ALOP in Europe. Erik Van Mele from Oxfam said: "Small producers in Central America will not be able to compete with the subsidised European agribusiness imports, and as a consequence, they will lose even more markets and income. This is a fact: fourteen years after the implementation of the FTA between Mexico and the United States, hundreds of thousands of small farmers have left the countryside".
The NGOs wrote last week to European Commissioners Benita Ferrero-Waldner (External Relations) and Peter Mandelson (Trade), expressing their concerns about the negotiations, and the lack of involvement of civil society. "So far, transparency in these negotiations has been almost inexistent. We believe the European Commission should urgently propose a mechanism to make the negotiations transparent and open to civil society participation", concluded Lourdes Castro from Grupo Sur.