With negotiations over the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the European Union and the 79 countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP)1 , set to draw to a close no later than December 31, 2007, the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly convened in Brussels on September 12-13 to take stock of the talks thus far.2 .
During meetings of the Standing Committee on Economic Development, Finance and Trade, some participants raised questions in particular over whether or not the EPAs have the ability to generate socio-economic development in the ACP regions. Among them, Boyce Setela, MP from Botswana, asserted that “the European Union’s trade requirements are tremendous and our requirements for development have not been met.” Belgian MP Alain Hutchinson, for his part, deplored “the absence of a development-related aspect” to the draft EPAs.
The “development by trade” principle behind the EPAs has also been challenged in particular by worldwide civil society anti-establishment movements, which on September 27 organized an international “Stop EPA Day.”
During a visit to Reunion Island a few days prior to the meeting, France’s Minister of Agriculture and Fishing, Michel Barnier, had already expressed his “concern” over the trade negotiations underway, particularly with regard to sugar. “We are determined to fight. I will not accept any challenges to support of the sugarcane industry.” Barnier fears that an elimination of customs barriers starting in 2008 would “destabilize” Reunion’s local industries by “bringing low-priced products [from ACP countries] onto the European markets.” Reunion, like the other so-called “ultra-peripheral” regions, is an integral part of European Union territory.
In comments addressing the fishing industry, Michel Barnier announced that France would deploy “all necessary measures in the southern seas and the Mozambique canal” to protect resources, stating, “We must mercilessly fight the seafaring rogues and smugglers who are plundering our resources.” These regions are subjected to fierce competition in this sector, particularly in the Indian Ocean, where close to 97 percent of catches are made by non-neighboring countries, two percent by the E.U. and only 0.15 percent by Reunion’s fleet.
Sources: AFDI, articles and dispatches from national and international press outlets.
1 For more information about the EPAs, refer to the following articles published on our site: ACP Countries, Europe and the WTO: What Agreements can be Reached to Promote Development? published on May 21, 2007 in the “Analyses and Commentary” section and The Banana Hinders Negotiations on EPAs, published on May 28, 2007 in the “A Look at the News” section.
2 The Joint Parliamentary Assembly is an advisory body comprised of an equal number of European Union and ACP representatives. The Assembly convenes in plenary session twice annually, with meetings alternating between European Union and ACP countries.