EPAs and Gender

Protest against EPAs 3

Economic Partnership Agreements and Gender




Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) like all other Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have trade diversion as a consequence. Trade diversion means that one country no longer imports from another as before, because it is economically more profitable to import from a third. For example the signing of a trade agreement between the EU and South Africa, made it cheaper to import meat from the EU than from Namibia. Trade was therefore diverted from Namibia, and created between the EU and South Africa. Trade diversion affects the various economic sectors divergently. At the same time male and female labour force is not distributed equally in all economic sectors. Furthermore, women have a different role in households and less access to resources than men. Therefore trade diversion through EPAs has a gender-specific impact which needs to be assessed.


The Cotonou Agreement, which is the legal basis for the EPA negotiations makes an explicit commitment to gender equality, but hitherto gender issues have not received any specific attention in EPA negotiations between the European Commission and the ACP countries. Neither side has deemed it necessary to dedicate specific attention to gender issues.


In Africa most of the population is employed in the traditional agricultural sector. In Mozambique for example 78% of the working force works in agriculture. Another general trend is that women are more likely than men to be employed in agriculture, whereas the manufacturing and the service sectors are male dominated. The aforementioned case of Mozambique, where 91% of the female labour force is employed in the traditional agricultural sector, confirms this. Therefore if the agricultural sector is affected by EPAs this is going to affect women more than men. Trade liberalization should bring in theory a series of benefits for the agricultural sector, like the access to modern western machines. However, as the small farmers and particularly women encounter great difficulties in accessing credit, they generally lack the necessary means to buy modern agricultural machines and other inputs. These potential benefits of the EPAs risk therefore remaining only theoretical for them.


The trade liberalizations foreseen in the EPAs are likely to have no positive impact on the export possibilities of agricultural sector of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) as these already benefit from free access to the EU market thanks to the Everything but Arms (EBA) program of the EU. The list of LDCs is created by the United Nations on the basis of a series of socio-economic indicators. Currently 33 African states are considered LDCs. On the other hand, the possibility of free import of food will lead to losses of jobs and revenue in the agricultural sector which will hit women hardest. Also the creation of supermarket chains as a consequence of trade liberalization is unlikely benefit the local agricultural sector as these supermarket chains demand highly standardized products at low prices and these conditions cannot be met by locally produced food, but only by food imported from developed countries.


The benefits deriving from the import of food such as meat from Western nations will remain largely theoretical for the agricultural population as the meat is generally sold at prices that make it unaffordable for them. There is a gender dimension to it as women are normally responsible for food supply and female headed households have a higher poverty incidence.


Another likely consequence of EPAs is the revenue loss for African governments due to the reduction of import tariffs. In Mozambique for example, a revenue loss of about 50% is expected. Therefore the state is likely to have to cut back expenses in the field of social services and education. This again has a gender dimension as it is women, who have to look after the education of children.


A concrete example coming from Cameroon shows how detrimental free trade can be for the local agricultural sector in African countries. In Cameroon poultry farming is an activity which is traditionally carried out mostly by women and young people. They generally work as middle- and small-scale farmers or just as backyard holders. Poultry farming contributed to the economic development of women and to the well-being of the families more generally. The financial empowerment of women deriving from the poultry farming allowed them to have a more active social and political role. Then massive importation of parts of frozen chickens, which could not be sold in European supermarkets where consumers were asking mostly for chicken breast began. As they had no market in Europe these chicken parts were imported at dumping prices in Cameroon and were therefore cheaper than the locally produced chicken meat, which then pushed local producers out of the market. Women with less capital were hit hardest and disappeared from the market first. Those who had taken loans went bankrupt and could not pay them back. Overall all small- and middle-scale holders were negatively affected. Protests forced the government to raise tariffs on chicken meat imports sharply and these increases allowed the local chicken farming market to partially recover from the negative impacts of free trade.


The necessity of monitoring EPAs


As has been shown, EPAs do have a gender-specific impact and so it is necessary to monitor this impact on social development and the living standards, by keeping a close eye on it. It is here that civil society can also play an important role. It is only with sufficient monitoring that it becomes possible to attempt to correct the negative impacts of EPAs. To monitor effectively it is necessary to identify a series of key indicators and to have access to a series of data. Possible indicators could be the expansion or contraction of female intensive sectors of the economy, the creation of sources of independent income for women or the development of social services for women provided by the state. Data are necessary on the gender structure of the economy and particularly on trade and labour subdivided between men and women. For example it is not enough to know that women work mostly in the agricultural sector; it is also necessary to know where in the agricultural sector and which goods are produced relying heavily on female labour force. In the same way data are needed on the different access by men and women to resources and on government expenditure so that understanding of the gender effect of tariff revenue losses is improved.




Thomas Lazzeri

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