ACP Calls for More Development Aid From EU

Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique
December 10, 2006

The heads of state summit of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group in Khartoum ended on Friday, with a call to make development the "cornerstone" of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) under negotiation between ACP members and the European Union.

The ACP grouping consists of the 79 countries which have preferential trading arrangements with the EU, established under the various editions of the Lome Convention. The problem for the ACP, taking centre stage at this summit, and indeed at the previous one, held in Maputo two years ago, is that, under rules imposed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) the non-reciprocal nature of EU-ACP trade is no longer legal.

The solution is to draw up EPAs, taking effect as from January 2008. These agreements will end the current scheme whereby ACP nations enjoy preferential access to EU markets, but are not obliged to open their own markets to EU goods. This runs counter to neo-liberal trade ideology, and so, as from 2008, the ACP nations, through the mechanism of the EPAs, will have to open up their own markets.

Naturally, there are fears that this is a recipe for destroying nascent industries in ACP member states. The ACP leaders in Khartoum wanted more time to complete the EPA negotiations - and crucially, more resources from the EU, to compensate for the radically changed nature of trade between the two groups. In other words, the EU could have freer access to ACP markets - but should pay for this through greater flows of development aid.

The "Khartoum Declaration" issued by the summit called for "increased and fast disbursement of requisite resources to enable ACP states to benefit effectively from EPAs". The ACP wanted "additional finance and appropriate financial instruments that are necessary for assisting in addressing adjustment costs and building human, institutional and industrial capacities and infrastructure for trade".

Such additional resources "will be used to reduce commodity dependency, improve supply capacities, increase value-addition, access appropriate technology and for the overall diversification and development of globally competitive economies of ACP states".

The ACP leaders fear that opening up their markets to EU goods will be disastrous if the economies of ACP countries remain dominated by one or two primary products, with precious little in the way of local processing. The ACP leaders wanted EPAs to grant "an appropriate degree, timing and pacing of market opening". ACP countries needed this "to attenuate the costs of liberalisation that would otherwise be substantial, given the level of current tariffs, the importance of the EU as a major trading partner, and the significance of tariffs as a source of government revenue and an instrument for industrial development, for many of the ACP states".

Thus reciprocity in opening markets "should be asymmetrical and introduced in such a manner that it does not have an adverse impact on domestic industries, employment, government revenue, and finance for development and poverty alleviation in ACP states". The ACP is also reluctant to negotiate "trade-related issues, including competition policy, government procurement and investment" in the EPAs. Such matters, the declaration said, "should be guided by the understanding reached on these subjects at the multilateral level".

It added that "ACP regions should only negotiate these issues when they are ready to do so, guided by the existence of uniform policies, regional framework on these issues, effective institutions and requisite human resource capacity at national and regional levels".

The summit called for "a well-functioning multilateral trade system based on fair, equitable, transparent, flexible and predictable rules". But currently there is no such system - the determination of the rich nations of the north to continue subsidising their own farmers has led to deadlock in the WTO negotiations known as the "Doha Round".

Those negotiations are currently suspended and the Khartoum Declaration noted "the significant bearing that this suspension will have on EPA negotiations". The declaration stressed "the importance of enhancing special, differential and more favourable treatment, and securing development policy space as part of a stable multilateral trading system". Trade liberalisation under the EPAs, it added, "should be properly sequenced and progressive, and needs to be accompanied by adequate supportive measures that address supply-side constraints, improve competitiveness and strengthen the capacity to trade".

The ACP leaders were particularly concerned about two crops - sugar and bananas. The Declaration noted "the continuing erosion of the traditional preferences" given by the EU to ACP sugar and bananas, and urged the EU not only to declare these crops as "sensitive products", but also to "ensure the timely and efficient delivery of adequate resources to boost the competitiveness of the ACP banana and sugar trade".

While the heart of the Declaration concerned trade with the EU, the ACP also claimed "deep commitment to the fundamental principles od democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights". The Declaration also condemned "all and any attempts to seize power by unconstitutional means", and the leaders agreed not to recognise any regime emerging from such a seizure of power.

Clearly this was inspired by the military coup in Fiji a few days earlier. A separate statement read out by Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol strongly condemned the Fiji coup, and demanded the restoration of Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and the elected Fijian government. But the summit's host, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, also came to power in a military coup that overthrew a legitimate government. That, however, happened two decades ago and was passed over in silence.

Meanwhile, what the United Nations describes as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world rumbles on in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, and threatens a regional war as Chad and the Central African Republic are sucked into the conflict.

The Khartoum Declaration condemned "genocide, denial of genocide, ethnic cleansing and all crimes against humanity", and demanded that the perpetrators "be punished in accordance with international law". Doubtless some of the delegates had Darfur in mind: but no particular genocidal act was named.

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