EU should not pressure developing countries over trade agreements says WCC leader

By staff writers
December 7, 2007

Concern about undue pressure exerted by the European Union on African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to sign interim Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by the end of the year has been expressed by World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev Dr Samuel Kobia.

His comments came in a letter to EU commissioner for external trade Peter Mandelson.

Kobia warned that the interim agreements open up local markets to competition with European companies without adequate legal frameworks and infrastructure in place. He also said that they address issues which are still contentious within a deadline that prevents parliamentary discussion.

The agreements represent an imminent danger of revenue loss for those countries, hindering their poverty eradication efforts, the letter affirms, he said.

"The WCC is concerned about the ongoing pressure exerted by the European Union on African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to sign interim Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by December 31st 2007. The pressure involves putting conditions on ACP countries to form themselves into blocs that can sign such agreements" he wrote.

"For instance the East African Community (EAC) has just signed such an agreement which will replace preferential trade agreements due to expire on December 31st 2007. This is the first international agreement to be concluded by the EAC as a block as well as the first trade agreement concluded by the European Union with another customs union.

"The EAC states will be obliged to open up their markets to goods from the European Union over a period of 25 years. After 15 years, 80 percent of the exports from EU will enter the EAC market free of duties. This mainly covers goods and services. About one fifth of EAC trade will be completely excluded from any market liberalization requirements.

"The agreement, it is claimed, is a first step towards a full Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which will further integrate the EAC into the global economy" he continued.

"The time is too short to include parliamentary discussions on interim agreements to take place in these countries.

"The interim agreements contain issues which are still contentious. Such issues are not consistent with the Doha round on development, poverty eradication and rights to food.
The coercive approach adopted by the EU on service liberalization poisons the negotiating atmosphere. There is strong opposition to include new generation issues which include liberalization of services, sector investments, competitions policy and intellectual property rights."

Read the full text of the letter here

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