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Call to revisit EPA

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

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It is time for Barbados and other signatories to abandon the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) they signed with Europe in October 2008.
That’s what a group of influential civil society groups from Africa, the Caribbean and Europe, including the Barbados-based Caribbean Policy Development Centre, are advocating.
The group discussed the issue at a “global EPA strategy meeting” in Harare, Zimbabwe,  and at the end of their discussions issued a statement, which comes on the heels of a recent recommendation from respected Caribbean economist Norman Girvan for the EPA to be renegotiated.
Calling the agreement and issues related to it a “charade”, the group denounced “the continued pursuit of the EPAs” and criticized the way the European Union (EU) was dealing with the issue.
It also noted that since the accord was forged, countries like Barbados were “faced with economic challenges not anticipated before”.
“The actual make-up and provisions of the agreements so far concluded have shown that the EPAs are incapable of delivering their proclaimed developmental promises, affirming only their damaging implications for ACP [African, Caribbean and Pacific] economies,” the organizations said.
“In addition, their pursuit has now become a fruitless diversion of energy from the economic developmental tasks confronting ACP countries, tasks which have become even more urgent in the light of the momentous changes in the global environment and economic order since the start of the negotiations.
“We therefore demand the abandonment of the EPA processes – that is, negotiations, ratifications and/or implementations. Instead, ACP governments must refocus on a trade and investment policy framework which is consistent with their own emerging initiatives and fundamental developmental needs in these changing times, and which should act as a guide to subsequent interaction between Europe and ACP governments,” they added.
Representatives also wanted European governments to “adopt transitional trade measure to facilitate this”, noting that in the more than ten years since the EPA negotiations were launched “only the Caribbean region has managed to conclude their negotiations in full”.
“However, the resulting EPA has not lived up to its developmental expectations. Instead, the anticipated benefits for Caribbean people have been frustrated by procedural small-print buried in the agreement as well as practical obstacles in Europe; more costly institutional burdens than anticipated; and the failure of legitimately expected EU financial support to materialize,” the statement noted.
“On the other hand, the EPA threats to Caribbean economies remain unmitigated. An additional handful of other countries in Africa have concluded interim EPAs with the EU. These are fraught with contentious provisions which have impeded further movement.
“And the EU has resorted to the extreme measure of withdrawing market access offers from countries which do not take necessary steps towards ratification of the concluded interim agreements.”
The non governmental organizations also pointed out that “the remaining majority of countries in Africa have yet to conclude any agreement with the EU”.
“Some have lost any interest and no longer participate, others are trying to negotiate regional EPAs that could replace the interim EPAs. Here again negotiations are stuck in acrimonious deadlock over fundamental issues, with no fair and equitable resolution in sight. The prospects of regional integration, a supposed aim of the EPAs, have been damaged even further,” they said.
“In Africa, contentious negotiations and partial agreements have pitted neighbouring countries against each other; and existing groupings and mechanisms of regional integration are being distorted into facilitating European interests in Africa. (SC)