Trade union movements across Africa and some civil society organisations yesterday urged African leaders meeting in Ghana for the African, Caribbean and Pacific/European Union (ACP/EU) conference to secure the lives of their people by renouncing all Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) entered into.
They also proposed that in the mean time, ACP governments should resolve to find alternatives to the EPAs that were in line with World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements and beneficial to the majority of their people, working in active collaboration with trade union movements and civil society organisations.
A joint statement by the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and the Ghana Federation of Labour (GFL) clearly set out the debilitating effects of signing on to the agreements on the people of those countries.
Presenting the statement, the General Secretary of the ITUC-Africa, Mr Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, said the leaders meeting in Africa had a “historical duty” to discharge by refusing to make ACP countries that were sovereign subservient to the demands of other countries.
He pointed out that the argument that EPAs were not the way for economic development and poverty reduction had already been made since the introduction of these agreements.
He said the proposal for free trade agreements between the EU and countries of the ACP was not acceptable, given the huge developmental gap between the two parties.
“The EPAs are tantamount to economic recolonisation,” he said, adding that a reciprocal market access offered by the EPAs that also demanded poor countries to remove, over time, custom duties on 80 per cent of imports from EU countries would only decimate the already small production base, wipe out employment and livelihoods and undermine efforts at achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The agreement, he went on to explain to journalists, would deny ACP countries their most reliable sources of revenue, that is, custom duties, as that would be blocked, leading to the weakening of countries’ abilities to invest in social services for the deprived.
Citing several factors to show why the 100 per cent EU market access offer under the agreements was “meaningless”, Mr Adu-Amankwah said non-tariff barriers, including sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards (SPS), complicated rules of origin and supply side constraints of ACP countries, would all inhibit the full enjoyment of that provision.
The net effect of all these, he said, was that ACP countries never benefited from market access provisions, even in earlier arrangements such as the Lome conventions and the Cotonou partnership agreements.
Mr Adu-Amankwah said given that the present rules of trade in services between the EU and the ACP countries were already consistent and compatible with WTO rules, it was not necessary or desirable for African countries to be made to negotiate again on those issues.
In addition, efforts by the EU to include trade-related issues such as government procurement, competition, investment policies, as well as intellectual property, were unacceptable because those issues had been successfully blocked by developing countries at WTO talks in the belief that they had extremely negative implications for development.
Mr Adu-Amankwah stated that despite the negative repercussion of those proposals on development in the ACP states, independent impact studies, including those commissioned by the European Commission (EC) that corroborated claims of the negative impact of the EPAs to development, were dismissed by them.
He was not happy with attempts by the EC to cast all critical voices represented by civil society, particularly on the EPAs, as disgruntled, saying that stance by the EC smacked of double standards.
Quoting President Bharrat Jagdoe of Guyana to drive home this point, he said, “We are incessantly lectured by the same group of countries, the EU, that national consultations and working with civil society are essential hallmarks of good governance, yet when the same civil society opposes the EPAs on the grounds that they are not sufficiently developmental in nature, we are told to ignore them — that they are complainers.”
Present at the press conference were the Secretary-General of the GTUC, Mr Kofi Asamoah; the General Secretary of the General and Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) and Mr Gyeke Tanoh of the Third World Network-Africa.
In his submissions, Mr Tanoh reiterated the fact that even commissioned studies by the EC were discounted if they proved the negative impact of the EPAs on development and that had made any discussion on the issue a difficult one.
He added, however, that on September 17 the Parliament of the EU released a report on the development impact of the EPAs in which it clearly came out with their negative impact.
Among the list of negatives was the fact that Cote d’Ivoire that had initialled an interim EPA would lose the equivalent of $83 million in lost tax revenue yearly.
Ghana, which has also initialled an interim EPA will lose $162 million yearly, while the West African sub-region will lose about $2 billion in lost tax revenues under the EPA.
Mr Tanoh said under the interim EPA initialled by the two countries, there were also contentious issues like the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause, “the standstill” clauses and the sovereignty of EPA agreements over all national laws in sectors that came under the EPAs.
The MFN, he said, ensured that if governments had any agreements with other countries other than the EU that were under good terms, they would be forced to make better terms with EU countries, while extending the same concessions to Ghanaians to EU nationals, making a charade of integration and South-South co-operation, while the standstill agreements weakened the capacity of governments to resort to local measures such as increasing some taxes on goods exported in case of emergencies.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2008, PG 21