ThisDay Live

By Chukwuma Charles Soludo

March 19, 2012

Africa is in trouble. Its future is once again on the table, and it is Europe that holds the ace. Unlike the Berlin Conference of 1884 to 1885 which balkanized Africa among 13 European powers as guaranteed sources of raw materials and market, the current contraption under the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) spearheaded from Brussels is the modern day equivalent of the Berlin Conference. At issue in both Berlin and Brussels is whether or not Africa can be allowed latitude to conduct trade, industrial and development policies for her own development or for the development of Europe. A major difference is that the ‘agreement’ will now be signed by free people, under supposedly democratic regimes, and in contexts where the African people again have neither voice nor choice. Only about 10 out of 47 Sub-Saharan African countries (SSA) have either signed or initialled the EPAs. Trade ministers of the affected regions—the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries as well as African trade ministers and the African Union—have largely rejected the EPAs. Despite all of these, and the reported public protests in twenty countries against the raw deal, it seems all but certain to be rammed through. In private whisperings, not many Africans or policymakers are happy with the deal but there is a certain sense of helplessness….

Put simply, in order to continue to have access to European markets (on the terms that it had enjoyed for more than three decades) Africa is now required to eliminate tariffs on at least 80% of imports from the EU; in some cases, abolish all export duties and taxes, in others, countries can retain existing export taxes but not increase them or introduce new taxes; eliminate all quantitative restrictions; and meet all kinds of other intrusive and destructive conditionalities that literally tie the hands of African governments to deploy the same kinds of instruments that all countries that have industrialised applied to build competitive national economies. Under the WTO, least developed countries (LDCs) are not required to further reduce their tariffs (at least they have the choice to decide whether and when to do so) but EPAs require at least 80% of them eliminated. Indeed, Africa is being asked to comply with more stringent conditions than Brazil, India and China are required to meet under the WTO. Almost all the flexibilities in policy choice that Africa and other developing countries won under the WTO are lost under the EPAs. Hitherto, the EU had also (in addition to the Cotonou agreement) granted a special concession to all African LDCs – the ‘Everything But Arms’ (EBA) – allowing them to export duty-free to the EU. This was the EU’s equivalent of the US Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) and African LDCs were not expected to reciprocate.  With EPA, it means that EBA is effectively dead. LDCs would have to provide reciprocal market access opening. In addition, what the EU has failed to get under the WTO or issues that developing countries have rejected under the WTO are being foisted on Africa under the EPA. For example, the so-called trade-related issues (the Singapore issues) such as investment, competition and transparency in government procurement, which are dead under WTO are being smuggled into EPA…Read more.