African and international civil society organisations have urged the rest of the world to redouble its efforts to stop the European Union’s drive to institute economic partnership agreements (EPAs).
The call for action was drawn up during a special review meeting of the Africa Trade Network in Cape Town from February 20 to 22, hosted by the Economic Justice Network (EJN) attached to the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa. The EJN advocates economic justice in trade, debt and food security.
The network represents civil society organisations from across the continent and the meeting drew African trade officials and representatives from regional and international NGOs.
The document will be circulated among civil society organisations worldwide, pressing them to support the anti-EPA crusade and participate actively in it.
“Members of civil society — especially those in the ACP [African, Caribbean and Pacific] regions — need to stand up and develop a strong strategy to stop the EPAs,” said Tetteh Hormeku, of the African arm of the Third World Network, an international network of organisations that are involved in development issues and global finance. “They have the power to educate and mobilise people and to influence politicians.”
EPAs are trade agreements that the EU wants to sign with the ACP. According to the EU, the deals are designed to assist in the integration of ACP countries into the world economy while promoting their sustainable development and contributing to poverty eradication. “Above all,” says the EU’s website, “they are an instrument for development.”
Currently, 35 countries have initialled to sign an interim EPA that could eventually be converted into a full agreement during negotiations this year. About 41 nations are refusing to do so.
The EPAs are opposed for various reasons. “EPAs are not about helping the ACP regions. They are about safeguarding European economies. The pressure the EU is putting on African countries to sign such agreements proves this,” said Hormeku, referring to the EU’s threat last year to impose higher import tariffs on countries that refused to sign an EPA.
Crucial in the anti-EPA strategy should be influencing decision-makers and, more importantly, heads of state, said Jacob Kotcho, of the Citizens’ Association for the Defence of Collective Interests, which focuses on citizenship, quality of life, collective interests, moral and ethical engagement and equity issues.
“Ministers have been listening to us, but ultimately it may be the president who decides whether or not to sign an EPA,” Kotcho explained. “That is why we should go straight to our heads of state.”
Billy Maseti, of the Alternative Information and Development Centre in South Africa, agreed and said: “Governments tend to think for the people. Therefore civil society needs to come in and inform governments what the people think and want. Added to that, they can play an important role in organising and mobilising people.”
Jane Nalunga from the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute in Uganda remarked that it is important for the various movements and organisations that are involved in the anti-EPA campaign to join forces. “We need to mobilise across the continent,” she said.
According to Brid Brennon from the non-governmental Transnational Institute, the anti-EPA campaigns in the South should come together with similar efforts in Europe. “It is important for European organisations to know what it happening in Africa,” she said.
These and other opinions of how civil society could strengthen its role in the anti-EPA campaign were shared and supported by the officials who attended the meeting.
“Civil society could play a more powerful role in making people as well as politicians on the African continent aware of the negative impact EPAs have on our livelihoods, among other things,” said Dorothy Tembo, foreign trade director of the Zambian Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry.
“NGOs and other members of civil society have the power to influence and therefore should strengthen and be more engaged in discussions with officials,” she added.
Rob Davies, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, agreed: “Most people are not aware of the EPAs or their negative impact. Civil society needs to strengthen its forces. The stronger the voice, the better.” — IPS