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Campaigners at the 7th African Trade Network Meeting Decide to Call for an End to the Neoliberal Economic Partnership Agreements

Day One (10/11/04)

A four-day workshop has ended in Conakry, Guinea. The meeting brought together around twenty-five participant-campaigners from countries, including Argentina, the Caribbean, and the Netherlands. Other participants included one person from the ACP Secretariat and a consultant who gave a presentation on the Guinean situation.

The aim of the meeting was for NGOs to strategise around the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) that the EU, keen to make the launch in 2008, is aggressively pushing with 77 countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group.

Day One began with discussions on the challenge of the Economic Partnership Agreement.

A representative of the Senegal-based ENDA Tiers Monde (Environmental Development Action in the Third World) started off the meeting by placing the EPAs in context, while other speakers provided the necessary background so that the participants could understand the process by which the ACP countries had moved from the Lome Agreements to the EPAs. A representative from Argentina, contributed the Latin American experience to the teach-in. The most pertinent for his region related to NAFTA and CAFTA. However, he broached the subject of mobilization which, for him, remained critical in pushing the campaign against the EPAs forward. He argued that if the campaign was to succeed, necessary elements, such as monitoring, lobbying, and mobilization would be paramount. He cited the example of CAFTA which, he argued, remained a successful case of how mobilization works.

Shortly after, the Guinean Trade Minister, in somewhat of an unexpected appearance, arrived to formally “open” the meeting. She expressed her interest in the ATN meeting and hoped it be a fruitful one. TWN-Africa’s Gyekye Tanoh invited the Minister to take discussions from “our frank exchanges on trade” to other government officials. There were equally frank exchanges by participants who articulated the general consensus held by ATN members with regard to the EPAs – that they are averse to development. One of them was a Senegalese who argued that those countries that had signed up to the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and EPAs had done so without knowing what they were getting themselves into. Secondly, he maintained, the Cotonou Agreement seeks to divide African countries by destroying national policies, which will only accelerate poverty. During the Question-and-Answer sessions, participants reached a consensus that the ACP Group will gain very little from the EPAs and it would therefore be a useful tactic to have all the technical aspects stopped completely.

The representative from the Nairobi-based ECONEWS made a presentation on market services during which she argued that what the EU wants on investment is a “regulatory framework” that would, in essence, bind developing countries. Furthermore, she opined, the EU wants a multilateral agreement on EPAs that would be cross-cutting through all ACP countries. There are clearly no benign intentions as far as the EU is concerned.

After lunch came the more substantive section on the EPA negotiations entitled “EPA negotiation: processes/players of Phase I – Phase II. Europe v ACP Battle of Interpretations, mandates and positions”.

This particular section created a more lively discussion on the state of play of the EPA negotiations. Interventions sought to identify the key players in the negotiations. It was agreed that the EU was the one making the demands, whilst the ACP Group was allowing its markets to be penetrated by the investment- and market-minded European Commission.

Contrary to popular ACP Civil Society opinions, the European Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) had begun to heed the concerns of the ACP. A resource person from the Brussels-based ACP Secretariat intimated that, owing to the ACP Member states’ need for investments, they were overlooking a vital risk, namely, that by opening their markets to the Europeans, this may well result in their inability to export any products.

She pointed out that, for a long time now, trade [liberalization] had been the major preoccupation of the Europeans, and it was high-time the ACP countries rectified and countered this paradigm by turning proper attention to development.

Other participants and speakers sought clarifications on what the EPAs were: whether they were development, or free-trade, agreements? They also expressed concern at the fact that the EU, through the European Development Fund (EDF), was pumping money only into areas in which it considers liberalization to be critical. This constitutes a source of concern to the ACP Group. Participants wanted to ensure that questions would be asked as to what guarantee – as it remained unclear -- could be given that money would flow into ACP countries once they decided to liberalise.

In addition, it was clear that the EPA negotiations have run a serious risk of scuppering the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) as enshrined in the Abuja Treaty in the sense that certain timetables laid out in the treaty were being side-swiped to the benefit of the EPAs, thereby exacerbating the confusion.

The Europeans’ claim of wanting to help the ACP Group with the RECs remains an unequivocal allusion. TWN-Africa’s Nancy Kachingwe argued that Africa is, in effect, paying the EU to penetrate ACP markets, which, apart from being unethical, was, in reality, “unconstitutional”.

A representative from MWENGO -- a Zimbabwe-based research and reflection NGO Centre – argued that in the United Kingdom, the EU was going for offensive positions to the extent that even, in the Directorate for Development, where much of the work is punctuated with talk on Country Strategy Papers (CSPs) and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), the UK was developing a dialogue of financial perspectives, which translates into another set of conditionalities in their own right.

He urged governments to identify the ACP governments’ defensive and offensive interests.

An intervention from a Mali-based consultant put it more succinctly by arguing that EPAs are only going to do two things: engender apathy among Africans as well as prevent South-South Cooperation (SSC).

The representative from the Netherlands-based organization, Both Ends, added that the basic rationale behind the Europeans claim that the StopEPA campaign is a Northern-led one is its desire to discredit and de-legitimise it from the word “go”.

The ACP official maintained that, above all else, the EPAs are not new, but can be found in the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). Evidently, the EU has distorted its original use. She then went on to explain how blind the EU is to development. A case in point is Togo where, despite the fact that sanctions had been imposed on the West African country, it was still able to trade with the EU!

Ultimately, it was agreed by all that the negotiations can only go in one direction—i.e. not at all!

Day Two (11/11/04)

Day Two continued from where it left off on Wednesday, with presenters discussing the state of play in the regions (ESA/ECOWAS/SADC/Caribbean).

It emerged, as SEATINI related, that in the COMESA region, Civil Society had been absent from what he described as a “bureaucratic-driven COMESA”. This evidently would cause problems as it therefore meant that there was no way for CSOs to lobby or engage Ministers. The situation had become so dire that one member of the twenty-one-member regional grouping had conducted forty rounds of negotiations and elaborated as many as ten draft positions.

The fifteen-member regional grouping of West African states – ECOWAS – was another story argued ENDA. ECOWAS countries had been “forced” to liberalise, and had ended up being forced to negotiate financial assistance. This had resulted in the disintegration of solidarity among ACP countries. The entire negotiations were being held in an “atmosphere of uncertainty”. Two West African countries, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau, had not even yet joined the WTO.

ENDA added that the ECOWAS-EPA negotiations should be centred on development, because, currently, they were ambiguous with regard to the agricultural sector, sensitive products, and Special and Differential Treatment (SDT). Furthermore, reciprocity had more or less been accepted, as well as the “immediate suppression of quantitative restrictions”, which translates into “no more quotas”. In essence, the discussions by ECOWAS with the EU are a “negotiation of assistance”, rather than what they ought to be: about development.

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