A meeting of African civil society organizations and trade officials in Cape Town, South Africa, at the end of February called for continued and increased resistance to the introduction of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) – free trade agreements between the European Union (EU) and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. Thirty-five countries have already signed interim EPAs which could be converted to full agreements by the end of the year. Though the EU claims they are ‘an instrument for development’, EPAs are causing widespread concern. Campaigners say that the EU’s real aim is to get better access to African markets and that governments which agree to lower import tariffs on European goods will automatically lose revenue and risk increasing poverty within their country.
At present, 41 nations are refusing to sign, but with the EU threatening to impose higher tariffs on goods from non-signatory countries, they are under increasing pressure to comply or risk economic punishment. As Tetteh Hormeku of Third World Network says: ‘EPAs are not about helping the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions. They are about safeguarding European economies. The pressure the EU is putting on African countries to sign such agreements proves this.’
Campaigning groups are now trying to mobilize together across the African continent and draw more European networks into their campaign. Argues Dr Rob Davies, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry: ‘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.’