Oxfam warns of dire consequences of EU's rushed trade deals

Published: 10 December 2007

Interim trade deals between the European Union and some of the world's poorest countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP), will undermine regional integration and jeopardize future prosperity, said Oxfam today following the news that the Ivory Coast had joined the list of countries agreeing so called Economic Partnership Agreements with the EU. So far fifteen countries from the total 76 negotiating have initialled interim agreements, covering trade in goods, which are envisaged as stepping-stones to fuller deals including rules on services, intellectual property and investment. The remaining members of the group are under enormous pressure to fall into line before the end year deadline.

Interim trade deals between the European Union and some of the world's poorest countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP), will undermine regional integration and jeopardize future prosperity, said Oxfam today following the news that the Ivory Coast had joined the list of countries agreeing so called Economic Partnership Agreements with the EU.

So far fifteen countries from the total 76 negotiating have initialled interim agreements, covering trade in goods, which are envisaged as stepping-stones to fuller deals including rules on services, intellectual property and investment. The remaining members of the group are under enormous pressure to fall into line before the end year deadline.

The countries that have agreed initial deals include all five members of the East African Community (EAC), plus Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Ivory Coast.

Amy Barry, spokesperson for Oxfam on trade, said: "Under enormous pressure, poor countries have agreed deals that enable them to continue to sell products to Europe. But the texts have been rushed through and do not safeguard development.

"The Commission has portrayed the interim agreements as soft, not very binding and flexible but our analysis reveals some extremely concerning provisions that could destroy industry and livelihoods and do untold damage to the progress of regional integration, which ironically was meant to be one of the objectives of these deals in the first place."

The coverage of these agreements is very wide and disciplines are more stringent than required under World Trade Organization rules. For example, developing countries are committing to remove tariffs on up to 97% of imports from Europe, with almost all cuts occurring within 10 to 15 years.

The safeguards in the deals fail to provide adequate protection for agriculture and fragile industries and space to use trade policy to promote development is eliminated. In addition, developing countries are obliged to negotiate on areas such as services and investment, and to give Europe the same preferential treatment they subsequently give to any third countries, such as China or Brazil.

While ACP countries are required to make such high levels of concessions, Europe makes no binding commitments on critical issues such as improving rules of origin, addressing its subsidies, or increasing development assistance.

"It is astounding that the Commission is prepared to push through such highly inequitable deals that will hurt poor farmers and undermine future development," said Amy Barry. "They are doing so in the face of concerns expressed not only by civil society, trade unions, farmers' and employers' organizations and research institutions, but also by international institutions like UNCTAD, the IMF, and the World Bank.

"Europe must desist from this madness and commit to do all they can to ensure countries are not made poorer by ill-thought out trade deals. Specifically, they must stop pressuring the remaining countries to sign, put in place measures to ensure no country will be worse off if they do not have an agreement by the end of the year, and agree to renegotiate the most concerning elements of the deals that have been initialled."

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Amy Barry at the EU-Africa Summit, +44 (0)7989664397 or +351 936933395