Oxfam and TWN Africa challenge the EU to extend market access in the absence of an EPA

Published: 27 April 2007

The European Commission has threatened some of the world's poorest countries with lower access to the EU market if they fail to sign new free trade deals known as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by the end of 2007, when their current market access preferences expire. But according to a new report launched today by Oxfam International and Third World Network Africa, African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries have more options than the European Commission has suggested.

In the event that ACP nations are not ready to sign by the end of the year, the EU could still provide them with a high level of market access, using the so-called GSP-plus scheme, without breaching World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
Tetteh Hormeku of Third World Network Africa said: "The European Union has been cranking up the pressure and presenting poor countries with a stark choice: either sign up to free trade deals which will be devastating for  the economy and for the vast majority of people, or accept less advantageous market access terms overnight, which will lead to massive income losses and economic instability.
"This research shows that there is a third way: with some improvements Europe could use GSP-plus to continue current levels of market access for ACP countries, even if EPA negotiations are not concluded by the end of the year. It's just a matter of political will. They are, in fact, obliged to do this under the terms of the Cotonou Agreement, signed in 2001."
The joint Oxfam-TWN report focuses on countries in the East and Southern Africa (ESA) negotiating bloc, and Papua New Guinea in the Pacific bloc, and demonstrates that for these countries GSP-plus would offer a level of market access very similar to that currently enjoyed, including for key sectors such as horticulture, fisheries and wood. For example, Kenya would have 99.61% duty-free, quota free market access under GSP-plus, compared to 99.63% currently. Mauritius, Papua New Guinea and Ghana would retain exactly the same access. The study predicts that the same would apply in other ACP countries.
Many ACP countries have expressed concern that they have not had time to carry out impact studies or consult with people who will be affected. Commentators fear that current EU proposals, which include deep liberalisation and new rules on services and investment, would destroy livelihoods and hamper future industrial development.
Luis Morago, Head of Oxfam International's Brussels office said: "The EU is being disingenuous, claiming they must either force free trade deals on poor countries, or re-impose punitive duties that will destroy jobs and businesses. However, they could also offer the same level of market access, economic stability, and time to negotiate good deals that realise the potential of trade to boost development and reduce poverty. This would require some ACP countries to ratify, or commit to ratifying, international conventions in order to be eligible for GSP-plus but if the EU is serious about helping poor countries, it should open this possibility.
The report recognizes that GSP-plus has a number of limitations but that these could be addressed given sufficient political will by all parties. It is important that rules of origin are improved and the scope of coverage is extended. In addition, neither GSP-plus nor EPAs resolve issues for exporters of bananas, sugar, beef, veal or rum – currently administered under the EU's Commodity Protocols. The report calls for the EU and ACP to separate discussions on the future of the Protocols from the current EPA negotiations and seek long/term measures to support ACP countries that are highly dependent on commodity exports


Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Alexander Woollcombe, Media and Advocacy Officer, Oxfam International
Office: +32 (0) 2231 1663
Mobile: +32 (0) 486 842 407