Friday, 11 January 2008

EPAs: Trade unions criticise the Commission’s lack of flexibility

As African and European trade unionists demonstrate in Brussels today against current Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) says in a statement, that these Agreements being negotiated between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries require fundamental changes in order to promote genuine trade and development opportunities for the ACP. In the demonstration today, several hundred people mainly from Senegal and Europe are coming together to gather in front of the European Commission to protest against the current EPA negotiations. Civil society organisations from Senegal including the ITUC affiliates CNTS, CSA, CNTS-FC, UDTS and UNSAS, as well as employers’ organisations and several NGOs are taking part.

Despite growing opposition to EPAs from the ACP, the European Commission has not showed much flexibility in the negotiation process. Using the argument that a WTO waiver expired at the end of 2007, the European Union is currently insisting that ACP countries not in a position to sign full EPAs should at least initial interim agreements whereby they would accept to liberalise at least 80% of their trade in goods and commit themselves to further negotiations on opening up in services, investment, public procurement and competition policies.

At its General Council meeting in December 2007, the ITUC adopted a resolution on EPAs denouncing the lack of adequate time devoted to the negotiation process, leading some governments to sign up to interim agreements that may undermine existing regional integration processes, cause serious employment losses and deprive governments of tariffs revenues vitally needed for public services and investment. In its resolution the ITUC calls upon the EU to refocus its negotiating objectives towards obtaining real development for the African, Caribbean and Pacific states. The ITUC is equally concerned by the lack of a social dimension in the current draft agreements. Indeed, to avoid trade between the ACP and Europe leading to the exploitation of workers, it is essential that all parties to EPA agree to uphold workers’ fundamental rights such as the right to form trade unions and to bargain collectively. Yet, as of this date the inclusion of a social chapter has not been accepted by the West African region. This remains a source of serious concern to all trade unions both in Europe and in the ACP.

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