UK agency criticises European Union treatment of poor

By staff writers
March 17, 2007

The European Union is continuing to abuse its position of power when negotiating trade agreements with 75 of its former colonies - that is the view of UK-based international agency Christian Aid, endorsing the findings of the the parliamentary International Development Committee.

Earlier this week the committee said it was "concerned" that the EU was abusing its position to force African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to accept the so-called Singapore Issues.

"It is a conclusion with which we wholeheartedly agree," said Martin Gordon of Christian Aid.

The ‘Singapore Issues’ relate to investment, competition, transparency and government procurement clauses that were included in the WTO negotiations at the insistence of the rich countries during the Singapore Ministerial in 1996. They were backed by the EU and US and are much disliked by ACP countries.

The committee’s report says there is an implication that the EU may impose penalties if ACP countries reject them.

"Suggesting that there will be penalties if poor countries do not sign up to the agreements as conceived by the EU lays bare Europe’s unethical approach in these negotiations," said Mr Gordon.

He addded: "This approach is less to do with reducing poverty and more to do with Europe’s commercial interests."

In October 2006 the UK government wrote to EU Trade Commissioners Peter Mandelson and Louis Michel to urge that investment and the other Singapore issues including competition law should not be included in Economic Partnership Agreements unless explicitly requested by the ACP regions. However, the European Commission is still pushing these issues to be included.

"This report is a damning critique of the European Commission’s approach to trade negotiations with some of the world’s poorest countries," Mr Gordon added.

"The UK government has a clear policy on these negotiations, but this is being ignored in Brussels as the Commission pushes ahead with its own aggressive agenda", he concluded.

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