'An injury to one market is an injury to all'

Southern African NGOs have put forward demands to their governments opposing the continuing talks on economic partnership agreements (EPAs) between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states.

Organisations forming the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network (SAPSN) took part in a street protest on Saturday in Sandton, Johannesburg—where the Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads-of-state summit was taking place.

Activists carried banners saying “Stop EPAs now”, “An injury to one market is an injury to all”, “No to bilateral EPAs” and “SADC not for sale”.

The SAPSN used the occasion of the SADC summit to raise its voice against the ongoing EPA talks by arranging a three-day People’s Solidarity Summit to run parallel with the SADC summit.

This was the fourth summit hosted since 2000 by the SAPSN, a regional network of NGOs strategising around resistance to the negative effects of globalisation on the South.

The summit was attended by about 500 delegates from the SADC region. The theme was centred on reclaiming and building a democratic SADC for peoples’ development through people’s rights, unity and cooperation.

“We demand that there not be any such externally imposed trade liberalisation between SADC and the European Union,” said Thomas Deve, a policy analyst with the Africa office of the United Nations Millennium Campaign. The campaign is aimed at inspiring people to realise the Millennium Development Goals to which countries committed themselves.

The SAPSN is opposed to “new-generation issues” being included in the talks. These issues include services, government procurement and national treatment of companies. The SAPSN is also objecting to the principle of reciprocity in trade preferences being adopted, given the “totally different sizes” of the economies of SADC and the EU.

A communiqué prepared at the end of the SAPSN summit laid down a number of issues that organisations would want regional governments to consider before continuing with the EPA negotiations.

The organisations said SADC countries must reunite and face the EU together in order to promote and protect the interest of the region, and that EPA negotiations have led to the disintegration of SADC.

“We deplore the splitting up of SADC into two groups negotiating EPAs with EU. This is not only weakening them now, but it is also placing at risk the future development cooperation and integration of the whole of SADC,” said Deve.

“We are already facing drawn-out and complicated processes of coordinating and accommodating the needs of our people and countries of different sizes and levels of development,” he continued. “This will be made much more complicated and even contradicted by separate and differing external trade and trade-related agreements signed by members of SADC with EU.”

“SADC is not merely a trade region,” Dot Keet, a trade specialist with the Alternative Information Development Centre (AIDC) in Cape Town, South Africa, told delegates at the summit. “It must resolve internal differences within SADC and advance decisively with SADC developmental cooperation and agreements, according to SADC people’s aims and interests.”

The AIDC is an NGO generating research to challenge the currently dominant global economic system.

Keet said the EPAs are a new ploy by European countries to “recolonise” Africa through subtle economic coercion. “We must stop the neo-liberal policies aimed at recolonising Africa. We must not allow EU development cooperation aid to lure our countries into irreversible commitments that can place the entire future of SADC in jeopardy.”

She said the EPAs hold far-reaching consequences for small farmers in SADC who face a barrage of problems such as perennial floods, lack of inputs and financial support—yet they are supposed to compete with subsidised agricultural imports from the EU.

Small traders running cross-border operations are being ousted by large retail chains and others from developed countries. This, Keet said, is resulting in massive job losses as existing factories and industries are closing down.

Swaziland had to sign an EPA unilaterally. Mbabane made it clear that it had no option because it would have nowhere else to sell its sugar and citrus, two of the country’s most prominent exports to Europe.

The same thing is believed to have happened to Namibia, which only undertook to append its signature to the interim agreement at the last minute—but under heavy protest. Namibia exports a significant amount of beef to the EU.

Keet also noted that the EU is not negotiating in good faith, saying it is dangling aid as a carrot to blackmail African governments.

She demanded that the signing of the EPAs be stopped until African countries are allowed to negotiate without any threats of aid cuts if they chose not to sign.

“SADC has been torn apart by EPAs because of the arm-twisting tactics of the EU, which has left countries receiving aid from Europe vulnerable,” she argued. “We are saying that these EPAs must be stopped. The bilateral agreements that some SADC countries are entering into are a reflection of the sheer complacency of some of our SADC governments.”

She described the ongoing negotiations on EPAs as “a mockery of SADC free trade integration”.

The SAPSN resolved to encourage MPs in the SADC region to interrogate the executive arms of their governments and to ask questions about trade liberalisation.

EPAs are a scheme to create a free trade area between the EU and ACP countries. The EU has punted the EPAs as necessary in the light of criticism that its non-reciprocal preferential trade agreements with the ACP states are incompatible with World Trade Organisation rules.

Initially EPAs were supposed to be region-to-region agreements between the EU and six regional groupings of ACP countries. However, SADC has been split during EPA negotiations. Some SADC governments negotiated outside the SADC framework and are preparing to introduce rapid and radical bilateral tariff reductions.

South Africa has refused to sign an EPA, and Namibia raised various objections before signing an interim agreement. Other SADC countries—Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland—have entered into interim EPAs with the EU. Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Zambia and Zimbabwe have also entered into interim agreements with the EU.—IPS

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