On 4th April the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade discussed the Economic Partnership Agreements, free trade agreements which the EU is currently negotiating with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP).
Comhlámh has campaigned for years on these free trade agreements. We are concerned that in their current form they will be bad for development, locking developing countries into being exporters of low value raw materials, and preventing them from developing their economies and working towards poverty eradication.
The commmittee discussed the new proposal by the European Commission to cut off the preferential trade market access to those countries who do not sign and implement these agreements by the end of 2013. We, and civil society across Europe and the countries involved, are alarmed at this proposal, which will put pressure on ACP countries to sign up to unfair trade agreements. ACP leaders have themselves written that this proposoal “further shifts the balance of power in an already asymmetrical process of negotiations in favour of the EU” and have reasserted the numerous development concerns they have about EPAs. They have called on EU member states to reject this proposal “in view of their detrimental overall effect”.
It wasn’t a great week for a committee hearing, being Easter week, when lots of parliamentarians are away. But the good news is, the vast majority of questions asked and comments made, related to development concerns. TDs and Senators raised concerns about trade policy undermining aid policy, developing countries’ right to industrial development, the principle of partnership, poverty eradication, unequal power and negotiating capacity, among other topics. The key question which parliamentarians kept returning to was if these trade agreements are so good, then why aren’t countries signing them, and why are we trying to compel them to do so?
Padraig MacLochlainn TD noted
“The concern I have heard from NGOs is that this type of unilateral deadline to reach agreement is outside the whole process that economic partnership agreements are supposed to arrive at. One must ask why less than half the ACP states have signed the agreement. If more than half have not signed, it would lead to the conclusion that there must be something fundamentally wrong with the process. We are forcing a European world view concerning the liberalisation of trade onto these countries that might have a different plan”.
Senator Mark Daly said
“I know it is a slow process but what seems to be happening is that the EU is using its economic muscle to frighten countries into signing this trade agreement. While this committee deals with trade, our remit also covers overseas development and development aid. Some of the countries we are trying to assist are on this list. This makes a bit of a mockery of our attempts to help them on the one hand, while on the other hand we will beat them over the head because trade is essentially the way to get out of poverty. ”
Senator Jim Walsh asked
“would I be right in assuming that the main driver of this is the EU for its own benefit, as distinct from it being an aid programme inspired by more altruistic purposes?”.
If you’d like to learn more about this issue You can read the full transcript of the hearing here
We in Comhlámh, and EU and ACP civil society, believe this is a regressive proposal, not in the spirit of partnership, designed to pressurise countries to sign deals they believe will be detrimental to their development. We will continue to campaign against this proposal, and in favour of European trade policy which respects the rights of developing countries to chose their own economic development path. We hope to meet Irish Aid in the coming weeks to outline our concerns, to follow up with TDs on this issue, and (with your help) to raise the issue with MEPs when it is discussed in the European Parliament.