By Rosa Crawford, strongerunions.org
There was hopeful news for trade unions in East Africa last week as Tanzania and Uganda refused to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and East African Community countries — Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda —partly due to concerns about the negative impact of the agreement on democracy and development.
Unions across Africa have raised concerns through ITUC Africa that Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) – free trade agreements the EU is negotiating with regional blocs of mainly developing countries. This is due to the fact EPAs require countries to remove tariffs from all but a few products, depriving them of a key source of income and undermining their ability to protect their industries that are not able to compete with European goods. EPAs also do not have adequate provisions to protect workers rights or social welfare which contravenes the goals of the Lisbon Treaty and Cotonou Agreement to use the EU’s external relations to promote social, labour and environmental rights.
These concerned were partly reflected in recent comments from the Tanzanian government. Although they referred to the uncertainty around the Brexit as one of their reasons for not wanting to sign the EPA now, the government statement made clear that its opposition to the EPA was primarily motivated by longstanding concerns with the negative impact the deal would have on East African countries’ development and economies. It stated they could not sign the EPA due to a need: ‘to protect the economic interests of our countries by empowering the manufacturing industries.’
Meanwhile the former President of Tanzania Benjamin W. Mkapa this week wrote the ‘high level of liberalisation’ required by the East Africa EPA, which would reduce tariffs on 90% of all industrial goods ‘is likely to put our existing local industries in jeopardy and discourage the development of new industries’.
Mkapa also stated the EPA would also negatively affect the regional markets of East Africa as East African goods will not be able to compete with EU imports.
Not only are the terms of the EPA unfair but so is the way the EU is conducting negotiations.
The European Commission has declared (through a ‘delegated act’) that if East African countries do not ratify the EPA by October they will lose the tariff-free access to EU markets they currently have due to the fact that the countries in the East African bloc – with the exception of Kenya – are classified as developing countries.
It is plainly unjust for the EU to deprive countries in East Africa, already struggling with high rates of poverty, one of their major sources of revenue by imposing prohibitively high tariffs on their exports to the EU, unless they sign an EPA which looks like it will do serious harm to their economies, workers’ rights and governments’ ability to provide quality public services to its citizens.
Last week President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni announced that he could not support the EPA as East African governments had not been adequately consulted over the deal. Trade unions have also largely been excluded from negotiations, as the ITUC Africa statement makes clear.
The TUC and ITUC will be calling for the European Commission to drop this proposal and allow East African countries the freedom to decide through a democratic process whether they accept the EPA rather than forcing it on them.
The TUC has also written to MEPs to urge them to vote against the EU-SADC EPA being negotiated with Southern African countries including South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana which contains very similar threats to the East Africa EPA. MEPs such as the UK’s Judith Kirton Darling have opposed to the SADC EPA. This agreement could be stopped if more MEPs can be persuaded to vote against the agreement when it comes before the European Parliament in September.
As opposition mounts to EPAs the EU must change its approach to trade so that the aspirations of its ‘Trade for All’ strategy to strengthen human rights and sustainable development through trade become a reality.
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