The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs) negotiations between African regions and the European Union (EU) are moving at different speeds. After more than a decade of negotiations the initial positions of both parties remain anchored. On one hand the EU does not give up its aspiration to increase exports to African markets and on the other hand African countries try to reinvigorate their economies and for this they need some protection for local farmers and infant industries. To maintain economic growth, African countries try to secure their revenues from tariffs imposed on imports, protecting food security for their countries and improving the good governance of their natural resources that belong to their populations.
Given the new stage that comes with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by United Nations and ratified by 195 countries (including EU member states and African countries), the EPAs should be negotiated and implemented with the SDGs in mind. Among other aims, these SDGs seek to eradicate extreme poverty, combat inequality and injustice, promote gender equality and preserve the environment. However, the technical negotiations of the EPAs seem to be concerned more about the growth of trade than about the people whom these agreements are intended to serve.
Economic growth is not good in itself and cannot be the goal. Economic growth without limits leads to a model of unbridled consumption that causes irreparable damage to the population and the environment, especially in Africa. Therefore, I believe that to achieve sustainable economic growth, the EPAs should be inspired by the common good of the people and each particular measure should address human development while fully respecting the environment.
Therefore, to ensure sustainable economic growth the EU should ensure that small farmers in Africa can develop their activities with appropriate means and enjoy similar conditions to European farmers who benefit from financial support through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Sustainable economic growth should not mean transforming rural areas into chemical-intensive industrial farms but putting in place support measures to improve the productivity of African family farmers. Sustainable growth promotes the capabilities of local producers, respects the environment, pays fair wages, promotes traditional crops, applies responsible production means and establishes equitable distribution of food.
EPAs should respect the industrial growth of African countries and protect the critical sectors of African economies. The trade balance between the EU and African countries needs to be equilibrated and sustainable Trade should be based on economic, social and environmental dimensions, not only on the commercial interests of the parties. For this reason, the EU cannot expect to export just its surplus production or technological goods and assume that African countries will only export raw materials or commodities, oil-precious stones, palm oil or exotic consumer goods to fill the shelves of supermarkets.
Sustainable economic growth requires adequate initiatives by both African countries and the EU to promote trade between Africa and Europe that respects the social and economic rights of populations. Among sustainable measures for trade there must be respect for human rights, decent wages, fair prices for raw materials and commodities, respect for labour rights and the absolute prohibition of child labour. Likewise, according to SDGs, the production process should respect the environment and promote renewable energy sources.
Despite being the richest continent in natural resources, Africa remains the poorest continent. Therefore, to develop their potential, African regions should cooperate among themselves and develop an infrastructure plan to facilitate the movement of people and goods at the national level, within and between African regions. Alongside the infrastructure investments, African countries should devise energy plans to make them less dependent on importing the energy they need for human development and the production of goods and services. Africa understands the potential of sustainable infrastructure to increase economic and social development which in turn contributes to sustainable trade.
Often the EU refers in the EPAs to aid for trade plans and insists that this help will overcome gaps between African regions and Europe. The EU will release 31 billion euro to help African countries implement the EPAs through the European Development Fund (EDF) for the period 2014-2020. It certainly is a lot of money (that was already committed to Africa) but the EU wants to distribute it among 48 sub-Saharan countries. It is then to be redistributed to improve infrastructure and production systems and to pay for adaptation to international trade rules and social initiatives aimed at eradicating poverty.
All sides appreciate that sustainable development for Africa is not only a matter of economic agreements but a much greater economic effort involving public and private investors. The design of a sustainable society is not just a question of aid favouring trade, but the deep conviction of political leaders that models of production and consumption must be changed. Sustainable economic growth should foster among countries ethical and respectful trade relations, with sustainable growth for all, both nations and people.
José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda
AEFJN Trade Policy Officer