Saturday, 27 October 2007

Blog Interruption: STOP EPAs

Blog interruption. Political Broadcast Time:


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.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

5* Orphanages & 5* Rapids

Jay Says: Its been a quite eventful week or so, and you know I’m not very good at keeping things short and sweet, but I’ll try, as much as possible.

With lots happening at the orphanage, buildings works wise (albeit slightly slower than we would like), we thought it would be a good idea to visit some larger and more established orphanages. So last Thursday Char, Mona, Anna and I headed up to Kampala, the capital, to visit a couple of Children’s Villages just out of the city. This was literally quite a jaw dropping experience.

These places were simply amazing! Its hard to describe. Superb quality houses, all with furnished bedrooms, lounge/dinning rooms, real kitchens and ovens (most kitchens in Uganda are cook houses – small outside buildings where you cook on wood fires) running water, electricity, hot showers and proper toilets! The problem was that maybe they were too good. Most Ugandan adults will not be able to achieve this standard of living. So how are the children going to survive when they leave and go into the real world of pit toilets, water wells and iron sheeted houses – one even had separate staff to wash and iron the clothes for them. These kids are going to leave with excellent educations (they sponsor them right up until the end of University!!) but even so they still won’t have an environment like this as it is not really the real Uganda. But still they are getting an amazing start in life, so you can’t criticise too much. And despite the problems we recognised, the set up was brilliant – it was a real village. 10 children, deliberately of different ages and sexes, lived together in their own house as if a real family – as brothers and sisters. And each family had a Mother, who lived with them 24/7 caring for them as if they were her own, as well as doing the cooking, cleaning etc. All the families had an Aunty as well, just in case the mother left. At one of the orphanages the mothers had to commit to a minimum of 15 years and go on a training course in Nairobi for SIX months before starting! Amazing! This was obviously an international charity, and very different from what we’re aiming for, or could achieve in the rural village, but still it gave us lots of food for thought.

As such we have come back and have re-focused our attention and efforts on long term planning for the orphanage. Anna and I are going to stop doing as much teaching when the children move in. Instead we’re going to focus on putting together a detailed long term plan for the orphanage, how we think it should be set up and run as well as doing lots of fundraising! In a couple of weeks we’re then going to do a presentation to the Charity’s board and hopefully they will agree with us! All very exciting, and a brilliant opportunity to make a real difference beyond our six months here!

Anyway, now for the fun stuff! We thought if we were going to Kampala we might as well stay the whole weekend. We stayed in Backpackers- the main accommodation for gap year types in UG. It was the first time I’ve been in the majority as a white person since arriving. It was quite unsettling and very surreal at first! Everything was just so western. But after a while it made a welcome change and the cooked breakfast, free pool table and hot showers were amazing! We also had arranged for a couple of other ICYE volunteers to come and stay there, including, for the first time, Grace from the UK, who arrived a few weeks after us. So that was really nice. We also had a curry in a restaurant full of Indians - so you know it was good!

Anyway upon arriving at Backpackers there was a sign for white water rafting and on a rather spur of the moment thing we decided we’d go on Saturday. The rafting in Ugandan is at the source of the river Nile! And if that wasn’t cool enough it is basically the best place in the world to go! So with nervous excitement five of us headed out early on Saturday morning to Jinga, the source of the Nile (other than me it was all girls coz the two other boys were too scared!).

It was bloody amazing! Rapids are classed between 1 and 7. With 6 and 7 being pretty much death wishes if you’re on a raft. Only professional kayakers could do 6 and 7 is all round no go. But on the Nile you go over four Class 5’s and a handful of Class 4’s and 3’s. Class 5’s are mental! With four meter plus waves coming at you from all sides and sheers drops of about the same! We actually missed one class five, but still was awesome. We only flipped the boat once – on a class four, and were one of only two boats (out of 8) not to flip on one of the most insane Class 5’s! Luckily I was sat at the front so I got the best view as we went over the sheers drops and got smacked by the waves! When the waters were quiet we also jumped out and swam and floated along the Nile. An incredible, if not surreal experience. Anyway we were on the water from 11 to 6 and that was pretty much the best 50 quid I’ve ever spent. Oh yes and it was all very very safe and very well organised Mum and Dad, don’t worry!

Anyway, I was very good and wore lots of sun cream, expect on my knees – none of us thought of that, and more to the point no one told us to! So the next day, after being on the water so long, we all had very bad sun burn there. My knees are now covered in blisters and walking is quite painful! So Char and I have been lying in bed the last two days – but we’re fine - we’ve been to visit the local clinic (run by Irish Nuns!) and got some drugs, and are quickly on the mend!

So on Sunday we were heading towards the taxi parks to leave Kampala when the rains that have been expected for so long finally came! That was some serious rain! Like nothing I’ve seen before. Within minutes we were wading through ankle deep water and Mona, who didn’t have a rain coat, was soaked to the bone. After taking refuge under a market tarpaulin and then in a shopping centre for about 3 hours we decided we better wait till tomorrow to get home, considering the now massive traffic jam and river for a road! At this point Camilla, another volunteer with us felt somebody go in her bag. Turning around and saying ‘Oi what are you doing’ caused about five men standing next to us to grab the guy, throw him to the street and search him for anything he’d taken, while a couple of others took Camilla to the side to check she was ok. Now mob culture isn’t great, but they weren’t really violent so it was quite amusing. People genuinely cared and hated people stealing. If you accused someone of stealing something on the Tube every would just hide behind their Standard and not get involved, let alone tackle the guy and check you were OK! Its why Kampala is one of the safest capitals in Africa.

And finally (sorry we’re nearly at the end), the rain coming brought with it the ants. Not small ants, but big ones with wings! Anyway they are somewhat of a seasonal delicacy at this time of year, so we have now tried fried ants for breakfast! Yum… well I’m not so keen, but Char doesn’t mind. They don’t taste bad, they’re just a bit too squishy for me! (Note from Char: They taste kind of like sea food but they look really awful!) Next month is grasshopper season – but these apparently are actually meant to be very nice – I’m told they taste like prawns! I wait with baited breath!

That’s all for now,
Hope everyone’s well and those who have just started Masters are enjoying reliving being 18!

Lots of love as always!
J & C x