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Mauritius host launching of new "Economic Partnership Agreement" with EU: Why so much rush in launching these negotiations now?

06.02.2004

Mauritius is hosting as the 7th of February the launch of negotiations on an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the Eastern and Southern Africa region (ESA) and the European Union (EU).

This regional negotiation is supposed to be part of the Cotonou Agreement, which itself forms part of the dismantling of the post colonial time ACP/Lome Convention. The major capitalist countries argued that the Lome Convention is incompatible with the WTO.

Under the new Cotonou Agreement countries are expected to enter into a new "Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU to replace the old ACP/EU. After the collapsed of WTO Ministerial in Cancun, the EU has been pressurising on ACP regional blocks to launch negotiations and thus undermine the united resistance of the ACP, who were seeking clarifications and wanted to define modalities at a general level before going through regional negotiations.

The Mauritian government, who just a few months ago decided that Mauritius will be joining the COMESA group for the negotiation with EU, is now strangely enough the main proponents of the EPA's, by being the host of its launching. Is this a new post-Cancun "economic diplomacy' being engineered the government and the private sector? Why so much rush in launching these negotiations now?

Similar to the processes leading to the WTO in the 90's, no national discussions and debates have been carried out by the government on the why's of the EPA's and its implications on the Mauritian people and future generations. Only a few technocrats from the states and people from the private sector have been involved in the discussions. The only Seminar where unions were invited to discuss these issues were coordinated by a representative of the Mauritius Employers Federations!

Lalit opposes the EPA's and the launch of this negotiation by the Mauritius government. In December last, together with people's, unions, research and civil society organisations of Africa, in the Africa Trade Network, we adopted a common stand calling for the opposition of the EPA.

The main objective of the EPA is to favour EU capital control in ACP countries in view of the gradual market liberalisation. The EU aims at opening its market only if it ensures that its own capital control the export of commodities from the ACP. Lalit is also concerned of pressure being exerted by the EU to control services, specially social services such as water, under the General Agreements on Trade in Services (GATS) of the WTO. The government should not bend to EU on these issues.

Please find below the section of the ATN Statement on EPA. The whole statement can be viewed by browsing our News or Documents section on this website.

Economic Partnership Agreements
In essence, the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements are Free Trade Agreements to be entered into between African and other ACP regions and the European Union, requiring that African, Pacific and Caribbean countries undertake reciprocal trade liberalisation with the EU. This is incompatible with the developmental needs of ACP countries, and is indeed in violation of the recognised principles even of an imbalanced regime such as the WTO.

Furthermore, through proposals to negotiate such issues as investment, competition, government procurement, and trade facilitation, the European Union seeks to introduce agreements to de-regulate the entry and operation of European investors and businesses in ACP economies which are more aggressive than anything that the European Union has been able to get in the WTO, and which ACP countries have resisted in the WTO.

The process of negotiations outlined for these has been imbalanced against ACP countries. The European Union has sought to undermine the agreed timetable of phased negotiations which will enable a clarification of principles at ACP wide level, before these are applied in regional negotiations.

Even as they are patently unprepared for the task, some African regions such as ECOWAS and CEMAC have launched negotiations for EPA with Europe, while they hope to rely on impact assessments sponsored by the EU to help them determine their negotiating positions.

We reject the negotiations for Economic Partnership Agreements which will result in free trade agreements between African regions and European Union. In furtherance of this we make the following demands:

The first phase of the EPA negotiations at the ACP-wide level must be completed as a pre-condition to further move to the second phase at the regional level. In this context, such central principles must be affirmed, including:

(a) no country be worse off as a result of the negotiations than at the beginning;
(b) there must be no reciprocity in the commitments assumed by EU and ACP countries;
(c) there must significant levels of preferences

A rigorous set of benchmarks and principles must be established as a precondition for further engagement around a trade and development agreement appropriate to the needs of African (and other ACP) societies.

The impact assessment as currently conceived, formulated, and sponsored by the EU is inadequate and biased towards the establishment of free trade agreements, and must be rejected. In their place, an independent assessment must be undertaken of the implications of the commitments expected of ACP countries under economic partnership agreements. Such an alternative study and assessment must also enable ACP countries to formulate comparative scenarios and alternative approaches to engagement with the EU consistent with their development needs.

Regional integration initiatives of Africa must be pursued on their own integrity, independently of the EPA processes, and as a benchmark against which the acceptability of any EPA must be judged.

Discussions and negotiations on EPA should be integrated into the democratic processes, both at the national and continental level, involving in particular national parliaments as well as the regional and continental representative institutions, in order that the people are able to exercise their right to monitor and input into the discussions and approval of any final outcome of the discussions and negotiations.