Oxfam warns EU-ACP free trade deals are unfair - Call for comprehensive review

Published: 26 September 2006

The European Union must urgently change its negotiating position on free trade deals with some of the world’s poorest countries or risk sinking them further into poverty, international agency Oxfam said today.

On the day of the 4th anniversary of the opening of negotiations between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACPs), Oxfam said that Europe is still failing to put development at the heart of these trade agreements.

In a report entitled “Unequal Partners”, Oxfam says that the proposed Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) will hurt rather than help the ACP countries, 39 of which are Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The development agency says that EPAs threaten to expose developing country farmers to direct and unfair competition with highly subsidised EU producers. Opening markets would also threaten much needed jobs in ACP countries as well as undermining regional integration processes.

The Commission’s mandate given from EU member states must be revised to reflect key concerns coming from ACP regions and civil society groups, Oxfam says.

Oxfam calls on Europe to use the formal review of the EPAs process over the next few months to redirect negotiations onto a different path. For instance, the European Commission ought to drop its ambitions of having reciprocal market access with ACP countries. Instead, Europe must focus on further opening its own market to ACP exporters.

“It’s clear that the European Commission’s position needs to be seriously revised. Many ACP countries are deeply concerned about the way negotiations of these free trade deals are going. The future of some of the world’s poorest people is at stake and Europe refuses to heed to their concerns. That is simply unacceptable”, said Luis Morago, Head of Oxfam’s Brussels Office.

The development agency says that through EPAs, ACP governments stand to lose control over key policy instruments such as tariff policy, competition and investment rules that all developed countries have used to progress.

Oxfam warns that key ACP concerns are being ignored. Europe is pressuring ACP governments to include competition policy, investment, and government procurement in the final agreement, despite the fact that developing countries have repeatedly objected to this – both at the WTO and in EPAs negotiations.

“To have a fruitful trading partnership between Europe and its ACP partners, you can’t have one side constantly dictating the rules of the game. It is unacceptable for the EU to bring back to table issues that have been unanimously rejected by poor countries”, said Luis Morago.

Oxfam highlights that if EPAs are to be pro-poor deals they should not lead to losses in government revenue and employment.

Aid promised by the European Union to the ACP – such as the European Development Fund (EDF) package - should not be made conditional to the signature of an EPA, Oxfam concluded.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact: Louis Belanger, Oxfam media officer on + 32 473 562 260 or louis.belanger@oxfaminternational.org