Africa, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Europe, Headlines, Human Rights, Poverty & SDGs, Trade & Investment, Trade and poverty: Facts beyond theory

TRADE-KENYA: Court Bid to Stop EPA &#39&#39Human Rights Violations&#39&#39

Rosalia Omungo

NAIROBI, Nov 3 2007 (IPS) - An unexpected challenge has been directed at the economic partnership agreement (EPA) being negotiated between the European Union and the east and southern African group. Two lobby groups have filed a law suit in Kenya to halt the signing of the EPA.

The Kenyan government, on the other hand, has defended its position, saying that the trade deal is in the best interest of all concerned.

The Kenya Small-Scale Farmers Forum and the Kenyan non-governmental organisation the Kenya Human Rights Commission last week (25 October) filed a suit with the Kenyan High Court.

They are taking on the ministry of trade and industry, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the ministry of planning and national development and the Attorney General for what they regard as a contravention of the fundamental rights and freedoms in Kenya’s constitution.

The organizations are seeking an injunction halting the signing of the EPA.

Eather Jepkosgei, a small-scale farmer in Eldoret in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province and a party to the suit, likened the EPAs to the World Bank’s ill-fated structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) of the 1980s.

Before the SAPs were introduced, there were various facilities provided for by the government, for example the provision of fertilizers, chemicals at subsidized rates, veterinary and crop production, marketing and agricultural services, she pointed out.

‘‘The introduction of SAPs destroyed these favourable conditions as well as the systems of credit and secured markets. Because of this, crop and produce prices and farm incomes collapsed. I believe if the government signs this EPA, the gains achieved in the past five years will go the same way as what happened under the SAPs,’’ she said.

Tom Kagwe, senior programme officer at the Kenya Human Rights Commission, shares similar sentiments.

"In the first two years, the effects of these trade agreements will not so much be felt. But after that, the EPAs will be worse than the SAPs,’’ he warned.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission insists that the EPAs are not only an economic issue, but also a human rights issue. Kagwe said signing the EPA will be detrimental to economic development and will lead to serious contradictions.

‘‘From the milk provider to the person who sells yoghurt – they will all lose their jobs.’’

The right to life and the right to development will be violated, argued Kagwe. Development is the removing of ‘‘un-freedoms’’, for example injustices and inequalities. ‘‘When these are affected, human rights are violated.’’

‘‘We are going to court because the ministry of trade and industry has not done its work. The MPs were busy chasing after their pay perks because their terms in office come to an end when elections will be held in December this year.

‘‘This has made them shelve important matters such as trade. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, on the other hand, has failed in its mandate to advise the government on the course to take in the EPA negotiations,’’ said Kagwe.

The Kenya Small-Scale Farmers Forum and the Kenya Human Rights Commission jointly filed the case in court. They warned that the EPAs will have devastating effects on the economy.

Of greatest concern is the government’s failure to consult the Kenyan public before committing the country to a trade deal that could have far reaching ramifications for their livelihoods.

The organizations say the EPA will reduce government revenues as customs duties will be disallowed.

‘‘The government, as protector and promoter of human rights, will not be able to fulfil its role,’’ Kagwe warned.

‘‘If trade affects dignity, the right to work, our livelihoods, water, healthcare, access to credit – then it is a human rights violation. The EPA is a tsunami. Signing the agreement blindly will come with all manner of human rights violations. Yet we don’t have a human rights-centred approach to investment and trade.’’

Indeed, said Kagwe, the government does not even have a policy paper to guide the discussions on trade and development.

He says his organisation is currently working on a human rights manual to assist the government with information.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission is calling for the consideration of alternatives, such as the ‘‘more humane’’ Generalised System of Preferences Plus, which is accessible to other developing states and links sustainable development with good governance.

Kagwe echoed the words of former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere: ‘‘If you have a heavyweight champion getting to the ring with a lightweight champion, we all know who will win.’’

Meanwhile the Kenya Flower Council and ministry of trade officials assured traders and growers that an agreement would be reached to ensure that they are not affected, should the EPA not be concluded by the year-end deadline.

Jane Ngige, chief executive officer of the Kenya Flower Council, assured flower growers during a recent meeting with stakeholders in Naivasha, Kenya, that the government would side-step the impasse next month when it signs a transitional agreement in Brussels.

This agreement will allow export trade to proceed without any hitch after the lapse of the Cotonou agreement at the end of the year.

‘‘I can assure you that the ministry of trade will sign a transitional agreement on November 12 that is compatible with WTO (World Trade Organisation) provisions, unlike the Cotonou trade agreement which the WTO says favoured the ACP countries,’’ she told journalists. The ACP countries are African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

Ngige said the agreement will provide quota-free and tariff-free access to EU markets.

Dr Richard Sindiga, chief economist at the ministry of trade and industry, said measures have been taken to address key concerns such as ensuring food security, employment, livelihood, the regional market and industrial and agricultural development.

‘‘We are insisting that Europe should not be allowed to export to Kenya live animals, animal or vegetable fats, prepared food stuffs, animal products, plastics and raw hides,’’ Sindiga said.

Republish | | Print |