Europe misses unique opportunity to build new relation with African countries

The SEDELAN has just received an excellent report by Maria Arena, Member of the Socialist Group of the European Parliament Committee on International Trade (INTA). It exactly matches the line that SEDELAN has taken and has been trying to convey over the past ten years. We are pleased to publish it here.


Blinded by a free trade policy carried to the extreme the European Commission is preparing to impose, in nearly total indifference, Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) on several African states, destabilised by a showdown where the European continent has the upper hand.

In spite of numerous and repeated warnings of the dramatic effects these agreements would have on most ACP countries (Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific), part of the political league, the negotiators of the Member States, are putting a silencer on their impact on the population, riding on an unbridled ultraliberalism supposed to be beneficial to all.

In the wings the EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström is thus about to succeed a real tour de force: have ACP countries sign free trade agreements which the majority does not want! The European Parliament, for its part, is to state its position in mid-July in its International Trade Committee INTA, on the agreement concluded with the SADC countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Moçambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland), whilst the European Commission hopes to sign partnership agreements with the East African Community (Kenya, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda) in the coming weeks.

The agenda is gaining momentum, aided and abetted by Commissioners brandishing these agreements, allegedly beneficial to all. But this is in no way the case.

The European Union, the world’s strongest economic power with nearly one third of world trade in goods and services, has “subtly” managed to ensure for itself access to the markets of non industrialised countries, among the poorest in the world, which together account for less than 1% of world trade … a boon for the powerful European trade !

The European Partnership Agreements have been up for negotiations since 2002 with the prime objective to put an end to the unilateral trade preferences granted to ACP countries by the EU since 1995 under the Lomé Convention.

Some quarters pretend today that these unilateral preferential agreements were in fact a concession made by the EU to the ACP countries. This is a gross misrepresentation of history. Let us be clear: these preferential treatments were given by the EU with the sole intention to maintain their exclusive relation with their former colonies and meet their demand for imports of raw material at a preferential tariff.

Whilst the Cotonou Accord of June 2000 foresaw the conclusion of the EPAs for 2007, it has taken until 2014 to see the majority of these agreements signed by the seven regions scheduled (West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, the South African Development Community, East and South Africa, the states of the Caribbean and the Pacific). In the meantime only the agreement with the Caribbean countries have been concluded and ratified.

Un autre monde est possibleThe slow pace of the negotiations shows that, contrary to the statements by the Commissioners, the ACP countries are not all demanding these partnership agreements, and definitely not on the conditions they propose.

Intent on muffling the reticent, the Commission uses and abuses of various levers of pressure, such as ultimatums, threats of closing the preferential access to the European market for countries other than the Least Advanced.

The new deadline imposed by the Commission has now been set for October 1st 2016, when six African states will lose their preferential access to European markets, if the agreements have not been signed and ratified.

“The EPA straitjacket “ as so accurately expressed by the former Editor in Chief of Le Monde Diplomatique, Ignacio Ramones, is thus looming lower than ever over the African countries. The Economic Partnership Agreements have never before been so unworthy of their name : of partnership and of negotiated agreements between parties on an equal footing it is absolutely not the case.

They are neither partnerships, nor “development tools” as held forth by the Commission and the DG Trade.

The EPAs will in fact deprive the African signatories of several billion of customs duties, will reduce their possibilities of steering their development policies and will force them to trade on the conditions imposed by the European Commission, without reference to their actual economic situation, needs and priorities. As far as African exports are concerned, they will remain subject to the strict European rules of origin.

Finally what would the additional benefits be for the development of African countries, other than what Europe has granted them for the past 40 years?

By imposing its own pace and its own conditions in the talks, Europe is losing a unique opportunity to build new relations with African nations, whereby the old dominating-dominated relationship of the 19th century could finally have been relegated to the past. It is regrettable. And deplorable.

Koudougou, July 8th 2016

Maurice Oudet

Director Editor SEDELAN

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