Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) are a scheme to create a free trade area (FTA) between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).
The new reciprocal arrangement is expected to replace the previous non-reciprocal preferential trade access between the ACP countries to EU markets. Despite protests against the raw deal, it is almost certain that the Agreement will be rammed through. According to Prof Charles Soludo Chukwuma, who has published some arguments against the new agreement in the magazine NewAfrican:
1. In order to have continued access to European markets, Africa is required to eliminate tariffs on at least 80% of imports from EU. In some cases, abolish export duties and taxes or retain existing export taxes but not increase them and moreover eliminate quantitative restrictions.
2. Under World Trade Organization (WTO), Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are not required to reduce tariffs but under EPAs, it is as high as 80%. In the current framework of EPA, Africa is being asked to comply with more stringent conditions than BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) under WTO.
3. The fallouts are for example African countries cannot use government procurement and contracts to prop-up domestic companies as European companies would be required to give equal treatment.
4. The emerging economies of BRIC are threatening the global economic, military and geo political landscape. With these new pressures a demand for exhaustible natural resources and new markets to sustain national security seems critical. It could only be expected that the EU would move quickly to secure its possession. Since the major powers are no longer able to make use of WTO to impose new rules on developing countries, they are resorting to bilateral and regional policies and agreements to try to get their way.
5. In many aspects this agreement reflects the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 where the African colonization by European powers was actually formalized in the name of “suppressing slavery”. Similarly, in the guise of ‘helping and aiding’, the EU is acting in self interest. It is the old classic ‘divide and rule’ policy, while EU can negotiate as a bloc, the ACP countries are divided into seven regions, sometimes not exactly matching the regional integration arrangements.
If the issue is ‘development’ of Africa, there are certainly superior alternative proposals for a more beneficial relationship between Europe and Africa. The African Union, various sub-regional groupings and even the ACP ministers of trade have canvassed alternatives to EPA. History should not repeat itself.
Soludo Chukwuma Charles, 2012. “Will Europe underdevelop Africa again?”, In: NewAfrican, April 2012