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“Remember Promises” – Developing Countries to EU

  • May 25th, 2007
  • Posted by EUEditor

acp-promises.jpgAfrican, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are not fully assured by new trade and aid terms being offered by Europe at current negotiations in Brussels.

Ministers from the 78 governments in the ACP group his week have been discussing revised terms with the European Commission on trade assistance, set to be determined by the end of this year.
These are in the context of the Cotonou Agreement, which gives preferential trade access to European markets and especially applies to unprocessed agricultural products.

BENEFITS

Delegates attending the negotiations this week said on Thursday (24.5.07) the European Commission had spoken of removing import duties on all products except sugar and rice.

That would be a big extension of benefits compared with present arrangements which carried a long list of exclusions, notably for sensitive products including dairy goods and textiles.

DOUBTS

However the change would be accompanied by an opening of ACP-country markets to EU products and services, and impacts of that had to be taken into account.

Also the ACP delegates needed to find out more about tariff description changes, and in particular, changes to rules of origin.

Those rules covered the way that inputs from different sources would be counted in any product; such as the processing of raw materials from Pacific countries, which often had to import supplies that they needed for manufacturing – causing confusion about whether access of those goods to Europe would be diluted.

The negotiations at Brussels include talks to set up bilateral Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) for individual countries with the EU, and there has been concern that the overall Cotonou accord could then be abrogated.

PUBLIC DEMANDS

At a media conference, the ACP Chairman, Mohlabi K. Tsekoa, Foreign Minister of Lesotho, said its countries were determined to act together as a group, and would remind the European Union to stick to its undertakings under the formal treaty.

Lt. General M. Merafhe, Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister from Botswana, said globalisation was creating pressure to break up blocs but the treaty group should continue.

“Even if we are to have separate agreements … we should not see the disintegration of the ACP community,” he said.

COMMODITIES

Arvin Boolell, Minister for Agro Industries and Fisheries in Mauritius, said extended access to Europe’s markets was welcomed but it should not prejudice existing concessions.

There were some main areas of concern including trade in sugar.

“We shudder for fear when we take stock of the power of the European Union in respect to the guarantee price for sugar,” he said.

“Sugar up till now has been a model example of what North-South bilateral trade should be.

“Agreements have to be fair with development at the centre of everything.”

The developing country Ministers had objected to the impacts of decisions by the EU to withdraw subsidies on its own production of sugar, resulting already in a 5% drop in available prices — with total price cuts to amount to 36% over four years.

While market access might be provided under Economic Partnerships, the Ministers were concerned the EU was going to abolish its sugar protocol with them, which they said would be a “unilateral renunciation of a long-standing trade and development instrument.”

Mr Boolell said a section of the Cotonou agreement, Article 36.4, was being quoted to the European Union, where it gave a set of guarantees including annually negotiated prices and indefinite duration.

He said the partner countries wanted no vacuums created if the European Union wanted to move away from its legal and political obligations.

Concern was also expressed about possible retreat from long-standing guarantees on access to the European market for bananas.

PACIFIC AND AUSTRALIA

Ministers said small states which depended heavily on a single crop or small range of products, including so-called Pacific micro states, would be the most disadvantaged in any changes.

Representatives of delegations from the Pacific region said they were looking for advantages from any new agreements involving mutual changes in market access, which could then have implications for trade with Australian or New Zealand.

They had been wanting better labour market access for their citizens to go to Australia or New Zealand, to obtain fixed-term or seasonal work.

ON FIJI … A committee of the ACP organisation is to monitor action by the government of Fiji to honour undertakings, to move towards restoration of democratic government and full human rights. After the military coup in Fiji last year, three-way meetings took place among he European Union, Fiji and other ACP countries; winding up on 18.4.07. The consultations were brought on under the terms of the Cotonou agreement, and failure of Fiji to act as required could lead to withdrawal of European development assistance.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION RESPONSES

The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, was asked later whether the EU was planning to scrap the Cotonou agreement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific states – responding with assurances and some ambiguity.

He said the Cotonou agreement was firmly in place and working well, and the European Union was supporting it.

However a new economic development partnership program was being worked on, to start in 2008, and the EU was looking to co-operate with the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to make it a success.

He said that on development aid, Europe had been rapidly building up the level of its contributions towards the United Nations target of 0.7% of Gross National Income.

He was speaking during a meeting at Brussels with John Agyekum Kufuor, Chairman of the African Union and President of Ghana.

The ACP includes 78 countries, fifteen from the Pacific region: Cook Islands, Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, PNG, Solomon Islands, East Timor, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Samoa.

Picture: Europe has been advertising its good faith on development aid; ACP leaders say it must do the same with its trade agreements.

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