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Q&A: ‘‘The EU Is a Bandit in Trade Negotiations’’

Interview with Tetteh Hormeku of Third World Network Africa

ACCRA, Dec 20 2007 (IPS) - A lively debate has been taking place in Ghana for some time now over the likely effects that an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union would have on the country. This has been thanks in no small part to the work of Tetteh Hormeku, one of Africa’s most vocal campaigners on trade issues.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, is adamant that nearly 80 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries must sign interim EPAs – relating to trade in goods – by the end of this year, with talks on a range of other issues, such as services liberalisation and investment rules continuing into 2008.

Calls by West African governments for the deadline to be extended have been rejected by EU officials.

A 48-year-old qualified lawyer, Hormeku has worked with advocacy group Third World Network Africa in Accra since 1994. He grew up in Old Ningo, a farming and fishing centre 50 km from the Ghanaian capital, where his parents grew tomatoes, cassava and peppers.

These were "useful" crops during his childhood, he recalls, but their importance to the national economy has declined because the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the EU have insisted since the 1980s that the country’s markets be prised open to often cheaper food from abroad.

By removing most remaining tariffs on agricultural imports from Europe, an EPA would make the situation of Ghanaian farmers even more precarious than it already is, Hormeku fears, thereby exacerbating poverty in this low-income country.

Hormeku spoke to IPS’s Brussels correspondent David Cronin during the latter’s visit to Accra*.

IPS: What is the latest state of play with the EPA talks between your government and the European Commission?

TH: I was almost heartbroken when I heard on Tuesday (4 December 4) that a European Commission delegation was here and that it had brought a draft interim agreement with it. The delegation said on Tuesday that ‘‘we have a flight tonight’’ but they then postponed their flight.

This was an incorrect approach if they actually wanted us to discuss the interim agreement. They should have a submitted a copy of the agreement at least a week in advance. You don’t wake up Tuesday and say ‘‘here’s the agreement you have to sign’’.

The talks broke down in the end because of a proposal made by the EU on abolishing export taxes. Export taxes are used by developing countries to encourage more processing at home. In Ghana, we have export taxes on cocoa and scrap metal – to discourage the export of scrap metal.

IPS: Can you explain why the EU wants to have the export taxes applied by African countries eliminated?

TH: Kenya has an export tax on raw leather. In 2005, the EU tried to force Kenya to give up its export tax on leather but Kenya told it to get lost. When it failed with Kenya, it tried to introduce new rules in the WTO (World Trade Organisation) negotiations. But everybody -China, India, and so on – told it to get lost.

The reason for the EU’s position lies with the Global Europe strategy (a policy document which emphasises the Union’s desire to remove any obstacles European firms encounter while doing business abroad). In order to ensure Europe’s manufacturing competitiveness, you have to ensure a continuous flow of raw materials.

IPS: Were you pleased that the Ghanaian government did not accept the agreement proposed by the EU?

TH: I was pleasantly surprised, not pleased.

IPS: Although the EU had been undertaking talks aimed at securing an EPA with the West Africa region, it has more recently been trying to clinch deals with individual governments in the region. How do you feel about that?

TH: The EU delegation shouldn’t have come here to Ghana. ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) had set up a negotiating team. The EU knows that and yet it comes to Ghana and goes to the head of state.

This would be like bypassing (European trade commissioner and British politician) Peter Mandelson by going to (British prime minister) Gordon Brown. It would be like saying to Brown, ‘‘we have a problem with Peter Mandelson, you have to intervene’’.

This exposes the cynicism of the European Union. First, they are saying an EPA is for promoting regional integration. But when they are not getting their way, they behave in a way that undermines our own regional integration.

IPS: Do you think Mandelson has a colonial mindset?

TH: I wouldn’t put it in terms of a colonial mindset. His mindset is that, what he thinks should be good for you is good for you. He had that attitude in the British government (in which he was secretary of state for Northern Ireland). He had that attitude to the Irish, when dealing with Ireland.

IPS: A ‘‘sustainability impact assessment’’ undertaken on the Commission’s behalf has outlined some of the negative effects that an EPA could have on Ghana. For example, it predicts that agriculture will suffer once tariffs are removed on food imports from Europe. Are you disappointed that the Commission has ignored this study?

TH: In May 2003, there was a meeting with Pascal Lamy (the then EU trade commissioner) in La Beach Hotel (in Accra). I asked him what he would do if the sustainability impact assessments for West Africa say it does not need to be liberalised. He said: ‘‘I don’t care, I’m here to promote Europe’s interests’’.

IPS: The EU constantly points out that it is the largest aid donor in the world. So the picture you paint of the EU would come as a shock to Europeans who believe it is trying to help developing countries.

TH (holding a beer bottle): People who believe that, have too much faith in European institutions. The EU is a bandit in international negotiations. It is no different to the Americans. Or the only difference is that the Americans say &#39&#39I want your beer, baby, and if you do not give it to me, I’m gonna shoot you&#39&#39. The Europeans say &#39&#39I want your beer because it is in your own interests to give it to me&#39&#39.

*The interview was conducted before Ghana signed an EPA with the EU on December 13.

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