EU trade agreements pose huge threat to development, campaigners warn

Published: 20 December 2007

EU Ministers will today formally approve a market access regulation for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries with which the EC has concluded interim trade agreements. Development campaigners warn these deals may devastate livelihoods and undermine future growth. Countries that have not signed up to deals will face a reimposition of tariffs on their exports to the EU. *

"The interim agreements are a trap", says Marc Maes of 11.11.11 in Belgium. "The EU refused to offer more time for the negotiations or to consider alternative arrangements. It has pushed dozens of poor countries into signing very unfavourable deals just to protect their existing exports. Those that have not signed face disruption to exports and possible job losses."

The ACP Council of Ministers meeting last week officially expressed "serious concerns" about the negotiations. In their declaration the Ministers deplored "the enormous pressure that has been brought to bear on the ACP States by the European Commission to initial the interim trade arrangements." They also observed that, "[the] European Union's mercantilist interests have taken precedence over the ACP's developmental and regional integration interests".

The Ministerial Committee of ECOWAS expressed similar criticism in Ouagadougou this Monday, when Ministers, "deplored the pressure being exerted by the European Commission.

"The interim agreements have been rushed through on the basis of draft texts proposed by the Commission at the last minute. ACP negotiators have not had the chance to examine or amend them properly," says Tetteh Hormeku of Third World Network in Ghana. "The result is bad agreements that require onerous commitments from developing countries and offer little protection for vulnerable sectors. As they are mostly signed by individual countries rather than full regions they will not just undermine those countries' economic development, but also undermine regional integration".

Analysis carried out by Oxfam International shows that the interim agreements:

  • Commit the ACP countries to liberalising their imports from the EU deeper and faster than could be expected from earlier statements (in most cases even more than 80% percent of imports is to be liberalised, mostly within fifteen years)
  • Do not offer adequate protection for infant industry or food security as they do not contain proper safeguards
  • Do not contain a clause for the modification of the tariff commitments
  • Demand the reduction or elimination of export restrictions (reducing the possibilities for reserving raw materials for local processing)
  • Do not contain an EU commitment to reduce or eliminate export subsidies
  • Only contain minor improvement of rules of origin, limiting cumulation to countries that have signed interim agreements
  • Oblige ACP countries to negotiate services, investment, government procurement and other issues even though the Cotonou Agreement does not contain such an obligation
  • Remain vague on development cooperation and impact assessment.

"Significant damage could be done to subsistence farmers' livelihoods and fledgling industries as a result of these agreements. Furthermore, the obligation to negotiate on services and other issues next year, could harm poor countries' economic prospects," says Luis Morago of Oxfam International. "We urge the EU to show flexibility and allow problematic clauses to be renegotiated. If they don't then the ACP would have every right to consider refusing to ratify the deals."


*  A full EPA was concluded with the Caribbean region on 16 December. It involves 14 Developing Countries (DCs) and 1 Least Developed Country (LDC), Haiti. Of the remaining 51 ACP countries involved in the EPA-negotiations, 12 DCs and 8 LDCs initialled interim agreements, 11 DCs and 30 LDCs did not. Of the 11 DCs that did not initial, 10 will see tariffs on their exports to the EU re-introduced (Cook Islands, Niue, Marshall Islands, Palau, Micronesia, Tonga, Nauru, Nigeria, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville). Exports form South Africa to the EU will continue to be governed by their trade agreement signed in 2000.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Amy Barry, Oxfam Media Officer, +44 (0)7980 664397