Economic Partnership Agreements or EPAs are the free trade agreements which the European Union (EU) is negotiating with countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
In the current economic context, with financial crises, food price shocks and climate threats, it is clearer than ever that EPAs are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
We are now years past the original deadline for the negotiations and it has become increasingly evident that EPAs in their current form are not fundamentally concerned about development at all. Instead they will further the interests of European companies. African countries are so concerned at the direction which the negotiations have taken that the majority of countries have not signed or initialled any form of EPA agreement. As foreseen, regional integration has been undermined because, under intense pressure from the EU, a few have signed or initialled interim or final EPAs while their neighbours have not.
The current unprecedented global crises have their origins in the rich industrial countries, yet African countries are suffering its worst effects. The crises have devastated economic activity in African countries, sweeping away small businesses, jobs, revenues and livelihoods, compounding existing challenges and undermining poverty eradication and social development programmes. In particular, the crises have highlighted the continued dependence of African countries on the export of a narrow basket of primary commodities, and on the import of most other products, including food and manufactured goods. EPAs would lock Africa in to this primary commodity trade model because countries would lose the policy tools to develop infant industries and services.
The crisis are also a result of decades of domination by neoliberal market orthodoxy and deregulation. EPAs would bring more of the same.
While the crises have brought new pressures, the original imperative to put EPAs in place no longer applies. EPAs were initiated because some Latin American countries started complaining at the WTO about the old agreement between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. The Latin American countries were angry about the preferential access for bananas, which put their own banana exports at a disadvantage. However the dispute over bananas has finally been resolved within the WTO, and no countries are currently complaining about the current trade arrangements between Africa and the EU. There is time to review and change the negotiations to make them truly development centred.
We stand at a crucial turning point. The crisis requires Africa's leaders to show vision and act responsibly and strategically, putting in place policies to counter the effects of the crisis, maintaining the space and flexibility to use those policies and looking toward Africa’s current and future developmental needs. Africa should step back from EPAs and put them on hold while prioritising Africa's own needs for development and regional integration.
Call on Africa's leaders to:
- challenge the false urgency in the negotiations and work to an extended timetable to enable governments to carry out necessary assessments and action in relation to the global crises;
- insist that African countries' access to European markets be maintained during this extended timetable
Furthermore, within the EPA negotiations we call on Africa's leaders to:
- insist on agreements that not require African countries to open such a large proportion of their markets so quickly;
- reject the negotiation of issues that have already been rejected at the WTO
- reject any provisions on intellectual property and services which go beyond existing commitments under the WTO agreements (TRIPS and GATS);
- reject the EU's demand that any future trade benefits that African countries might give to other major trading economies must also be given to the EU
In these time of crisis, we call on Africa’s leaders to show bold, committed leadership united around the vision of a strong and integrated Africa, driven by the needs and imperatives of its peoples
Since countries in Africa gained independence, their trade with the former colonial powers in Europe has been governed by a series of agreements which gave the former colonies preferential access to European markets in order to strengthen their economic independence. This agreement is now being renegotiated in order to bring it into line with the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The replacement will be regional agreements known as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). However what the EU is asking for goes far beyond anything required by WTO rules and includes many issues which developing countries, acting together, have managed to block at the WTO.
Agriculture is the backbone of Africa's economy and African governments have only a few policy tools to support their agriculture and generate an income for public spending. Tariffs on imports are the main tool. EPAs will require African countries to eliminate tariffs on almost all European imports into Africa, depriving them of this basic tool. The other side of this coin is that it will allow cheap, subsidised European agricultural products to flood into into African markets - something that has already caused hardship for many smallscale farmers in Africa. The EU has made no commitment to reduce its domestic subsidies for its own farming.
The EU claims that African consumers will benefit from EPAs because of cheap European food imports. But who will really benefit?
- The majority of Africa's consumers are themselves farmers. If their source of income is at endangered, they will not have the means to purchase goods, no matter how cheap.
- Few African countries currently have the capacity to monitor the quality and safety of imports, leaving consumers at risk of exposure to inappropriate foodstuffs.
- If African governments lose tariff revenue because of EPAs they will need alternate ways to regain revenue. Often this happens by raising consumer taxes, including on food.
- Multinational food businesses have great control over the internationally traded food. If local farmers are forced out of business by imports that are initially cheap, then when there is no competition, the merchant traders will charge whatever they want.
Ultimately, “cheap” food imports will not stay cheap.
EPAs will not bring new access to European markets for African farmers, as Africa already enjoys good access through the old agreements. Africa's need is for support in addressing supply-side constraints, such as infrastructure and marketing. EPAs do not include any binding commitments or new funds to help with this.
EPAs will have a particularly damaging effect on African women. Women provide 60% of the agricultural labour force in Africa and grow over 70% of staple food crops. They also take a large role in small-scale food processing and informal trading. Due to gender inequity, almost all women farmers are very smallscale and marginalised, and will be the first to lose out to competition from European exports. In most African cultures women have the responsibility to provide food for their family, so it is they who will have to try and cope with the problems that EPAs are likely to cause for Africa's food security.
EPAs are being negotiated in a very non-transparent manner behind closed doors. Parliamentarians have been sidelined and civil society have rarely been consulted. The EU has insisted on replacing the old agreement not with one new one, but with separate agreements with regional blocs. This is undermining Africa's own efforts for regional integration. New regional groupings have been created, some of which have split longstanding blocs such as SACU. Even within these blocs, pressure from the EU has led some countries to go ahead and sign, while others have refused, leading to neighbouring countries having different trading arrangements with the Europe.
Not only will EPAs undermine agriculture but they will also affect the rights of African people to food, water, and work. Their impact on government revenue will affect basic social services such as health and education that are essential to the realisation of human rights.
You can find out more about EPAs in these briefing papers from ACORD:
|Economic Partnership Agreements: a threat to food sovereignty
english | français
|Economic Partnership Agreements: what every parliamentarian needs to know
english | français
|Economic Partnership Agreements: undermining human rights in Africa
english | français
|Economic Partnership Agreements: jeopardising a united Africa
english | français
|Update on EU-Africa EPA negotiations
The long awaited high level meeting on EPAs?
Further resources on ACORD`s website on EPAs.