Proposed trade deals between Europe and dozens of its former colonies would expose poor nations to cheap industrial imports and slash their customs revenues, British-based charity Oxfam said on Monday.
In a report entitled "Partnership or Power Play?", Oxfam called on the 35 countries from the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group that had initialled draft deals with the European Union last year to renegotiate them.
The EU wants these deals to be formally signed by July 2008 and is pressing all 76 ACP states to complete negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by 2009. It argues the deals will promote trade and encourage foreign investment.
But Oxfam said the bilateral deals, designed to cover the expiry of preferential tariffs for Europe's former colonies under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules at the end of last year, would undermine development and hobble the creation of trade blocs in some of the world's poorest regions.
Africa has the world's lowest ratio of regional trade -- less than 7 percent of its exports -- and this has long been considered a major obstacle to its development.
"In a fair deal, Europe would fully open its markets to all exports without demanding reciprocation," said Mouhamet Lamine Ndiaye, Oxfam's Pan-Africa head of Economic Justice.
"There is a lot of potential to make a really positive difference to poor countries' economic prospects, and there is still time to do it."
The European Union has said that WTO rules on reciprocity mean that developing countries must open their own markets to benefit from freer access to European ones.
Oxfam said the EU could broaden its trade incentive system, the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), to allow poor countries to retain special benefits.
Jobs at risk
Agreeing fair trade deals is vital to many poor nations and hundreds of thousands of jobs could be at risk, Oxfam said. It said that while ACP goods account for only 2 percent of Europe's imports, they represented a quarter of those country's exports.
The draft deals grant only limited scope for developing countries to retain any tariff protection, which they mostly used to defend their economies from subsidised European agricultural exports, exposing their fledgling manufacturing sectors, Oxfam said.
The report cited the example of Senegal, which lost one third of its manufacturing jobs after liberalising the sector.
"The cost will be enormous: annual losses from tariff cuts of $360 million for Africa alone," said Ndiaye.
Only a very few countries had benefited from the full transition period of 25 years for removing tariffs on certain products, the charity said.
Timetables were radically different depending on a country's negotiating prowess: Ivory Coast would have to completely remove tariffs on 60 percent of European imports two years before Kenya even starts liberalisation, Oxfam said.
The charity also said that strict intellectual property rules by the European Union would deepen the digital divide and challenge traditional farming methods, including seed saving.
This was only offset by weak EU commitments to help poor countries access new technology, it said.
Last Mod: 22 Nisan 2008, 09:13