Free trade by any other name
As the December 2007 deadline was approaching, the European Commission realised that it would not get what it badly wanted: to close a deal with all African regions on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) ‐ basically free‐trade pacts.
In frustration, the EC resorted to divide‐and‐conquer tactics and arm twisting with individual countries to persuade them to sign “interim agreements.” The EC split African countries into least developed countries (LDCs) and non‐LDCs and warned that Europe would not extend the Cotonou Agreement ‐ the current EUAfrica trade framework ‐ and that non‐LDCs had to either accept “Interim Agreements” or face high tariffs in European markets. In the end, a number of countries succumbed and reluctantly signed these agreements, either as a region or as individual countries.
Nonetheless, negotiations continue in the hope of finding a compromise for full agreements that would satisfy both African and European countries. Such a compromise will be difficult to find, however. The Africans are calling for “development‐friendly” agreements, while the Europeans seem more interested in promoting their commercial interests. Moreover, by forcing individual countries to enter into “interim agreements,” the EC has shown that the only form of African integration it really supports is one that would
provide a large and open market for European goods and services, not one that would serve Africa’s interests.
The EC conception of EPAs is fundamentally contrary to Africa’s interests because for Europe, they are basically “free‐trade” agreements, given that they must be compatible with WTO rules. In short, EPAs, as conceived by the EC, are a major obstacle to African regional integration, to food sovereignty, and to African industrialisation prospects. They would also sap Africa’s resources by increasing the repatriation of
profits and worsening tax evasion and other forms of capital flight. Furthermore, these costs will be compounded by the costs of fiscal adjustment to trade liberalisation, without any guarantee that the EC will
provide enough resources to compensate for those losses.
The ongoing food, energy, and financial crises are inextricably linked to the implementation of “free trade” policies and unregulated capital flows and offer a preview of what is in store for African countries if they enter into a “free trade” agreement with the EU. Africa must reject the EPAs in their current form and move toward alternatives. This does not mean a rejection of any kind of cooperation with Europe. Africa wants a genuine form of co‐operation with Europe, but co‐operation free from neocolonial paternalism, domination, and exploitation, and based on mutual respect and the promotion of mutual interests.
by Demba Moussa Dembele* ‐ The East African, Kenya
Demba Moussa Dembele is the director of the African Forum on Alternatives (Senegal).