Advocacy On Trade, A Long Way Ahead

The Cotonou Agreement is the overarching framework for European Union (EU) relations with countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) and is based on three pillars – development cooperation, economic-trade cooperation, and the political dimension.

This agreement will be valid until 2020. The European Commission has initiated the process for a new, Post-Cotonou Agreement and presented a first draft in December 2017. At the same time, it announced that the negotiation with Africa would begin in September 2018. So the draft has been presented before that negotiation. This detail highlights the attitude of the EU.

It is within the economic and trade cooperation area the sub-Saharan African countries and the EU have negotiated the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). However, the trade balance between Africa and Europe is still colonial after many centuries. Nothing has significantly changed. The EU has expressed the willingness to change the trade relationship with Africa into a partnership but has failed to put it in practice. Europe keeps manipulating its economic power over African economies that are now more dependent on the western countries than in the past. The content of the EPAs is adapted to the circumstances of the different economies and countries but the same dynamic of economic (neo) liberalisation remains.

Currently, there are 5 different EPA negotiations with different African Regions. However, only 7 countries in Africa are implementing provisional or interim EPAs (only Trade in goods) but the intention of the European Union is to negotiate comprehensive EPAs that would include liberalisation in services, public procurement and foreign direct investment. Thus, Europe has the upper hand in Africa regarding Trade and this is playing out in the lives and social welfare of ordinary people as well as the environment. In short, EPAs favour EU Member states and European interests at the expense of African countries. Thus, EPAs must be rescinded or no longer pursued. The slowing down of the process has been the main success of civil society in the last decade.

The African national governments are aware of their situation but lack of policy space and strong democratic institutions together with endemic corruption make it more difficult for them to act differently. The various trade commitments between the EU and individual African countries or regions make regional trade integration in Africa extremely difficult or even impossible. Therefore, there is a long way to go in Trade advocacy work to improve the agreements in order to restore a trade balance, not only between the African countries and the EU, but among all developing countries and the EU in other multilateral agreements.

The EPAs allow for differences in both operational and quality standards in African countries regarding investment and trade, differences that are not permitted in EU countries. For this reason, in EPAs nothing should be permitted in African countries regarding investment and trade that would not be permitted in European Union countries. Advocacy work can help to improve the outcomes from EPA agreements for African countries and their people on a number of issues.

The first element that should be included in the EPA negotiations covers Human Rights, labour standards and Sustainable Development. The EU stated that new trade agreements include these chapters. However, this is not the case with the EPAs with Africa. They are not even foreseen in the current agreement with SADC and ECOWAS regions. Trade agreements cannot be negotiated at any price; they must protect the human and social rights of the people, the environment and the sustainability of their economies.

Secondly, the advocacy work on trade and specifically on EPAs has a relevant task in technical issues like bilateral safeguards, Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) as well as Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS), quality standards and facilitation on Trade. It is evident that the economies of Africa and Europe are at different stages of development. A win-win negotiation must start from a principle of reality aware that African economies need protection to strengthen their infant industry. African countries cannot lose the revenues that they receive from import tariffs as these are essential to maintain social services such as education and health.

But a third area of advocacy work must focus on the EU trade policies. The current trade defence instruments, subsidy policies on agriculture and fisheries and the investor-state disputes settlement of the EU must be readdressed to reach fair agreements with African countries. The EU has removed the subsidies for export but there are still subtle mechanisms that prevent fair competition with African economies.

These three areas of advocacy work are essential to obtain fair Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and African countries. The EPAs must help obtain sustainable development for all and should serve the general interest of the population, not just particular interests or those of transnational companies. The EU must reform both its trade policies and the way it negotiates with developing countries. Promoting international democracy values is a matter of co-responsibility and not of one side imposing its own capacities and interests.

– José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda, Trade Policy Officer, Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network