Since 2002 the European Union (EU) and countries of the Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Group (ACP) have been negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) as part of the Cotonou Agreement. EPAs aim to establish "new WTO compatible trading arrangements removing progressively barriers of trade between EU and ACP countries" which would build on "the regional integration initiatives of ACP states" and promote "sustainable development and contribute to poverty eradication in the ACP countries ". EPAs as they are currently being set up and negotiated are essentially Free Trade Agreements. Consistently, the EU has insisted that EPAs be based on a tight interpretation of WTO rules aiming for the elimination of all trade barriers on more than 90% of EU-ACP trade, within the shortest possible transitional time period.
In addition the EU is demanding negotiations in the field of investment, competition, trade facilitation, government procurement, data protection and services. Negotiations of the first four of these issues were rejected by ACP countries in the WTO because of their negative implications for development. Under the guise of a 'development partnership' the EU is re-introducing its WTO free trade agenda through EPAs. Despite a great deal of reluctance from ACP countries, the European Commission has put heavy economic and political pressure to rush into the EPA free trade negotiations without sufficient preparation. Those voices in Europe and the ACP urging the Commission to look for other options were ignored.
As a result of heavy dependence on aid, ACP governments have little choice but to give in to the EU's demand that they open up their markets to European goods and services. The overwhelming emphasis on liberalisation in the EPA negotiations proves that these negotiations are about expanding Europe's access to ACP markets, rather than about ACP countries' development. Regional integration efforts are central to ACP countries' development strategies. EPAs will endanger the fragile processes of regional integration and expose ACP producers to unfair European competition in domestic and regional markets.
The result will be deeper unemployment, loss of livelihoods, food insecurity and social inequality. ACP governments will face significant losses in public revenue from the elimination of import duties and will continue to suffer the problem of capital flight associated with liberalisation. While the European Commission argues that EPAs are 'instruments for development' all assessments so far indicate that the burden of adjustment for EPAs will be carried exclusively by the ACP countries, including those that are LDCs. The EU has narrowed down the Cotonou objectives of poverty eradication and sustainable development to a self-serving trade and investment liberalisation agenda. EPAs will increase the domination and concentration of European firms, goods and services. As such, EPAs will deepen - and prolong - the socio-economic decline and political fragility that characterises most ACP countries. EPAs based on reciprocal trade agreements do not make sense economically, or developmentally for ACP countries. Therefore, we reject these "Economic Partnership Agreements" as currently envisaged. We call for an overhaul and review of the EU's neo-liberal external trade policy, particularly with respect to developing countries. We demand that EU-ACP trade cooperation should be founded on an approach that is:
- based on a principle of non-reciprocity, as instituted in GSPs and special and differential treatment in the WTO
- protects ACP producers domestic and regional markets.
- reverses the pressure for trade and investment liberalisation
- allows the necessary policy space and supports ACP countries to pursue their own development strategies.