The advocacy work of AEFJN and other Civil Society Organizations (CSO) to stop the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the European Union and African regions has been intense during the last decades. In the last 20 years, the European Union (EU) has tried to impose its liberal trade policies in Africa with a twofold purpose. First, the EU tried to facilitate the access of European companies into the African market to sell their products and implant its companies in the African continent. And second, the EU tried to access and control the natural resources of the continent in a veiled way of neocolonialism. Unfortunately, the EU was and is more interested in securing the supply chain of raw materials, food and commodities of European companies than in securing the food security of the African population, owner of those resources.

In spite of the fact that Trade is a relevant tool to foster human development and fight against poverty, Trade has been used as a tool to control natural resources in developing countries. The Civil Society Organization has denounced the negative consequences of the EPAs in African countries’s economies especially to the industrial sector. As the EPAs demands reciprocity of market access between Europe and Africa, African business would enter into an unfair competition with European companies and may not offer the quality standards demanded by the European legislations. It would triggered a loss of business sector in Africa with negative impact on the population especially the most disadvantaged who would lose social protection.

The preamble of the EPAs mentions the protection of human rights but they are not mentioned in the body of the text. It means that governments signing these agreements and their national companies investing in developing countries are not legally obliged to assure their protection. Once again the vulnerable people of developing countries are affected by the strong positon of economic powers.  This lack of commitment with human dignity is reinforced with the fact that EPAs have not done anything tangible to protect Human rights of workers. While the EPAs with Pacific and Caribbean countries foresee the creation of a consultative committee of the civil society (CARIFORUM) monitoring the implementation of the economic agreements, inclusion of a section on the respect of the human rights, these committees have been ignored in African EPAs. The Civil Society in Africa and Europe are ignored when they have something to say regarding the abuse and systematic violation of human rights in Africa.

It is evident that the economic relationship between African countries and the EU are stuck and African economy growths in spite of the economic pressure of western countries. However, the twin Africa    population and unemployment growth rate have contributed to making her economic progress intangible; and to a good extent is responsible for the internal displacement and migration of Africans in recent times. Economic development must be linked to a human development of the population otherwise the gap between rich and poor will increase.

The advocacy work on Trade issues has been essential in the 2014-2018 AEFJN Action Plan.[1] Most of the time when we speak about Advocacy work it is difficult to assess the results and we focus on the efforts. However, at the end of our Action Plan, AEFJN makes a positive assessment of its work on Trade. First of all, there has been an efficient prevention of the Trade liberalization agenda demanded by EPAs between the EU and African Countries during las four years. African countries have slowed down the signature, ratification and implementation of EPAs and only 7 out of 34 countries in Africa are implementing interim EPAs. The concern about the EPAs and its negative impact has risen among civil society both in Africa and Europe. Not only Europeans are concerned about the consequences of the EPAs in the economy of developing countries but there is a growing civil society coalitions in Africa demanding alternative trade practices at the service of the human development and not paving the way to transnational companies.

The Cotonou agreement was signed in 2000 and it established that the EPAs should be signed by the end of 2007. Almost 20 years later, the reality has shown the failure of the Economic Partnership Agreements. The European Commission on behalf of the EU has pushed to African countries to sign disadvantaged agreements while refusing to sign other agreements in which the EU was the least advantaged party such as the unsuccessful TTIP with the States. Moreover, in 2015 the European Commission threated to countries like Kenya, Ivory Coast and Ghana and blackmailed African states to secure its economic interests.[2] The EU has kept its policy of pushing African countries to open their borders to European products lowering their taxes and facilitating trade to European companies. Every time that any African country takes any initiative to protect their own industry it was taken by the EU as an offense.  However every day that the implementation of any EPAs in the continent is postponed; it is a success for the African population and their industries.

The new Cotonou agreement currently under negotiation tries to update with new words the same neo liberal trade strategies. The neo liberal practices of the European Commission insist in wider agreements where not only trade of goods are interchanged but where a whole range of services, procurement, investment and trade related areas are liberalized. It would allow European companies to access to the African market and compete in unfair competition concurrence with African companies.

Finally the EU has tried to hide their lack of commitment with developing countries announcing new chapters and provisions to protect the African population. However, there has been a complete lack of interest to implement measures like publishing independent impact assessment, assuring the respect of human rights of their companies operating in Africa, adding provision to correct gender unbalance and last but not least incorporating real measure that make feasible the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal.

José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda

AEFJN Policy Officer

[1] Trade will be work transversely in the next plan of Action 2019-2022 which will be focus on Natural Resources and Food Sovereignty.

[2] Seattle to Brussels Network