Differences and the Difficulties on EPA Negotiations


      Currently, trade agreements between Africa and Europe are conditioned by neoliberal economic policies which give little space for fairer economic growth in Africa. Europe, once again, is imposing its economic and political models on the African regions and claiming free trade in goods, services and investments. Moreover, the neoliberal system fosters competition between countries and jeopardizes the development of many African countries.  

      In spite of the African economic growth in the last decade, the infant African industry is not ready to compete with European companies. Under these circumstances, free trade agreements between Africa and Europe generate job loss and impoverish the population in Africa. At the same time, African countries suffer the pressure of international economic organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO) imposing neoliberal rules on developing countries if they want to receive development aid and loans. On the other hand, innovative agreements are being proposed to establish a new economic system as well as new ways of trading between developed and developing countries.

      The Alternative Trade Mandate (ATM) is a network of 50 organizations which aim to change European trade policy so that it works for people and the planet instead of serving the interests of major corporations. ATM proposes an alternative trade policy that increases economic, social and environmental well-being globally and creates justice between countries, social classes and local communities. This new trade system gives priority to people over corporate interests and tries to achieve its objectives by establishing priorities at international, national and community level.

      At international level, every trade agreement should guarantee respect for the Human Rights of those affected by the agreement. The new ‘alternative’ economic agreements are to assure sustainable economic growth and respect for the environment and working conditions by forcing businesses to adhere to socio-economic and environmental rights and standards. International trade agreements must conform to the rules of transparency, and fairness should feature in negotiations between the EU and African regions.

      Within Europe, the EU has the authority to negotiate trade agreements and, once the new agreements are adopted, member states have to adapt their legislation. The different governments then have to act to enforce economic, social and cultural rights both inside and beyond their borders. The EU member states should also have responsibility for the behaviour of their companies working abroad regarding human and environmental rights.

       EU member states must recognize the right of African people to decide their own trade policies. African governments should be free to establish protection measures for their companies and control of financial regulations in their own countries. The liberalization of the market cannot be imposed by Europe and the rich countries. The well-being of the population must be always at the heart of negotiations.

      African governments have the right to be independent and to solve potential conflicts between corporate interests and population rights that could happen on their territory. In many cases, developed countries impose international tribunals to solve conflicts between national interest and international companies. In many cases, African governments have to renounce their own legislation. African governments should not renounce their own jurisdiction to solve conflicts nor their own sovereignty when deciding on legislation.

      At regional level, trade agreements should respect the interests of local communities and there should be impact studies to protect their environment and domestic products. Commercial agreements should protect the basic needs of the population and guarantee their well-being in areas such as public health, education and labour conditions. African populations have the right to live with dignity and they must be heard and represented in negotiations with other countries; they need to be at the centre of all agreements.

      The ATM calls for a fair distribution of incomes among workers, producers, distributors and governments. All of them are necessary in the trade chain and their interests must be protected. Economic injustice is perpetrated when there is no fair distribution of profits of transactions.

      While European Union trade agreements strengthen market liberalization, push forward the privatization of public services and impose the interests of transnational companies, the ATM offers a new alternative for trade. These alternative trade agreements would be based on protecting the population from market liberalization, strengthening the voice of local communities, preventing the privatization of public services and defending human rights ahead of any corporate profits. European countries have to make a radical shift in their trade and investment policies to give a new spur of hope to the people of Africa.[1]

[1] For a more democratic vision for European trade policy, take a look at the Alternative Trade Mandate Alliance, an alliance of currently almost 50 civil society groups (including AEFJN).


Jose Luis Gutierrez Aranda

AEFJN Policy Officer

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