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TRADE-AFRICA: Where Are the EPA Impact Assessments?

Moyiga Nduru

JOHANNESBURG, May 8 2007 (IPS) - Civil society organisations in southern and eastern Africa have urged John Kaputin, the secretary general of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states, to insist that assessments be done to evaluate the potential effects of the European Union’s proposed economic partnership agreements (EPAs).

In 2000, the European Union (EU) and the 79-member ACP group agreed to carry out full assessments on the possible consequences of the EPAs, said Dot Keet of the Alternative Information and Development Centre, a research and lobby group based in Cape Town.

This decision was taken when government representatives met in Cotonou, the capital of the tiny west African republic of Benin, according to Keet.

Kaputin left South Africa on May 6 after a five day visit. While in the country, he held talks with South African foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and representatives of the country’s department of trade and industry.

He also met with the president of the Pan African Parliament, Gertrude Mongella, and the secretary general of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Olukorede Willoughby.

Little information came out of Kaputin’s meetings. Campaigners contacted by IPS did not even know that the ACP secretary general was in the country.

All that was said after the meetings was that a range of issues were discussed, which included the future of the ACP group, the EPA negotiations and the relationship between the ACP group and the African Union (AU).

Kaputin also praised South Africa, which had joined the ACP group in 1997, three years after the demise of apartheid.

”In its 10 years of membership, the country has proven its willingness to provide the group with invaluable leadership and direction,” Kaputin told journalists in Tshwane (formerly Pretoria), the capital of South Africa.

Keet told IPS that ”Kaputin should realise that there can be no further trade negotiations with the EU until full impact assessments have been carried out”.

The negotiations to institute EPAs in the place of the preferential trade agreements of the past 30 years started in 2002. The EU wants the EPAs to be signed off by the end of the year and to be put into effect from next year.

”Yet nobody knows what the full consequences of the agreements will be,” said Keet, who also campaigns for a fair deal for poor nations in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Similarly, church leaders from southern and eastern Africa recently said that ”while we appreciate the development objectives of the Cotonou agreement, we are mindful that in the current negotiations the European Union and our governments have lost sight of these objectives”.

This statement emanated from a conference held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, between April 23 and 25. The churches also said that the ”EPAs have turned out to be free trade agreements, which will have a detrimental impact on our agriculture and food security, infant industries as well as natural resources.

”In addition, they will lead to a loss of tax revenue that is earned from duties on imported goods,” the statement said.

According to the British pressure group Action for Southern Africa, ”more than 19 percent of total government revenue will be lost in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. Ghana could lose 194 million dollars – up to 19 percent of current government revenue – as a result of free trade”. This information was published in a January 2007 briefing document.

The churches also asked for an extension of the December 31 deadline for the ACP-EU negotiations. ”This would give our governments the opportunity to initiate a participatory impact assessment and include development and benchmarks in the negotiations,” the churches said.

”Issues must be defined and timetables shifted,” insisted Richard Kamidza of the African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), a non-governmental organization based in Durban, South Africa.

”If the EU can spend a year considering the request to include South Africa in the EPA negotiations before it gives a response, why do we not extend the EPA deadline?” he asked. ”Even now countries are submitting their views and the EU is taking its time to consider them,” he said.

The civil society groups are worried about the variety of trading blocs within the African region negotiating with the EU. Dlamini-Zuma warned that fragmented voices would weaken the region’s negotiation power.

Keet contended that the ”Europeans are undermining and destroying regional unity”.

To complicate matter, the EU is not the only trading power interested in Africa. ”There is competition between China and the EU in Africa,” Kamidza said.

Civil society organisations also want Kaputin to concentrate more on delivering those important trade commitments that wealthy nations have made to developing countries but which have remained unfulfilled.

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