Oxfam says to EU Ministers: more aid, no free trade deals

“Europe is worryingly off-track to meet pledges to increase overseas aid”
Luis Morago
Oxfam International
Published: 24 May 2007

European Development Ministers meeting in Brussels tomorrow as part of the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) must agree not to force free trade deals on African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, and demonstrate their plans to get back on track to meet pledges to increase development aid, international agency Oxfam said today. Europe’s reputation as a generous donor and reasonable trading partner will suffer if they do not.

“Europe is worryingly off-track to meet pledges to increase overseas aid, a failure that will directly deprive children of access to education and sick people in developing countries of treatment. This meeting is an opportunity ahead of the G8 meeting in June for Development Ministers to acknowledge the shortfall and commit to work with Finance Ministers to set a timetable to increase aid to meet pledges,” said Luis Morago, Head of Oxfam International’s Brussels office.

“At the same time, Development Ministers must promise to do their best to ensure that free trade deals – known as Economic Partnership Agreements – will not be forced on developing countries before they are ready. If African, Caribbean and Pacific countries liberalize their trade too quickly, and make commitments in other areas like services and investment, millions of poor people could lose their livelihoods and be pushed further into poverty,” he added.

In a report released last week Oxfam and other NGOs revealed that despite commitments to increase aid to Africa dramatically, aid volumes have been static since 2004 and in 2006, Africa’s share of European aid resources actually decreased. If European governments do not improve their performance, poor countries will have received €50 billion less from Europe by 2010 than they have been promised. All European countries have inflated their figures by counting debt relief, the report said.

Meanwhile, Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations have been characterized by a lack of flexibility from Europe, which has insisted on a strict timeline and the inclusion of issues that have already been rejected by developing countries at the WTO. Europe failed to listen to developing country concerns or to discuss alternatives to EPAs, despite an earlier commitment to do so.

“We were concerned to see draft conclusions of this meeting that suggested a hardening of Europe’s line on the trade deals – both in terms of content and timescale. Member States must take the opportunity – one of the last they will have – to reorientate the negotiations so that they promote rather than undermine development,” said Morago. 

Oxfam said that more aid designed to help poor countries trade was needed. This must be additional to existing overseas aid commitments and must not be conditional on poor countries agreeing to open their markets.

Luis Morago: “Aid must not be used as the stick to beat developing countries into signing free trade deals. If Europe is serious about development it needs to be more generous with its aid offerings and more flexible in its trade negotiations. Otherwise, Africa may well end up worse off than it is already.”

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