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Civil Society Statement On EPA Negotiations

Civil Society Statement On EU/EPA Negotiations

Statement of civil society organizations from workshop on negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the Pacific ACP states and the European Union, 7 September 2004, Suva.

Negotiations between the Pacific ACP states and the EU will be launched on 10 September 2004 and are expected to be completed by December 2007. There are serious concerns about the social, political and economic implications of these negotiations for Fiji and the small vulnerable economies of the Pacific. Fiji and regional civil society groups attending the above workshop submit the following initial statements for consideration as negotiations begin.

Issues and Concerns

* The interest of Pacific peoples and their development must take precedence over the economic interests and corporate profits that drive 'free trade' agreements such as the Economic Partnership Agreements.

* Services that impact on daily lives (such as education, public utilities and health services) have no place in trade agreements such as EPAs. These services should not be governed by trade rules. They are basic human rights that every Fiji and Pacific citizen is entitled to whatever their social status.

* We express disappointment that no comprehensive people-centered social impact studies have been done on the sectors that may be addressed in the EPA negotiations. These studies must be participatory and must be done immediately to inform the negotiations in the coming years. Findings must be made known publicly for discussion and debate. Furthermore government must not enter into any EPA commitments until it has examined the economic, social, environmental and gender impacts of existing free trade commitments.

* We oppose the requirement that an EPA must be WTO-compatible since WTO rules are biased against small vulnerable economies such as Fiji. Further, most Pacific ACP countries are not WTO members anyway. The EPA could make them become members against their will.

* The claim that these free trade agreements will alleviate poverty (and bring greater peace and security) is misleading. There are real and proven dangers from an unequal 'free trade' system that assumes small countries like Fiji and Tuvalu can compete on a 'level playing field' with the EU and other developed countries. We want a just trading system that takes into account the vulnerabilities of small economies, and addresses the vast inequalities in the world today.

* Before anything is agreed to in an EPA, government must ensure that local people and firms have the capacity to deliver and take advantage of its provisions. Government must not rely on foreign or overseas firms/expertise to take over or control the sector or the activity being opened up in an EPA without adequate time and protection given to local firms/expertise to compete.

* For the food security of small island economies, certain sectors particularly in agriculture and fisheries need to be protected for local consumption. Small and local enterprises and strategic industries must also be protected and supported to ensure the livelihoods of Pacific peoples.

* We must build our capacity in quality standards and quarantine to a level that protects the health and safety of our people and the sustainability of our products for export, while at the same time ensure that the EU does not set unrealistic standards that restrict our market access and the ability of local traders to export.

* We strongly support the stand of ACP member states at the WTO to exclude the 'Singapore issues' (trade facilitation, competition, government procurement, foreign investment) and insist that these issues be excluded from the EPA negotiations.

* Governments must recognise that the EPA is part of wider trade liberalisation processes and what is agreed to with the EU may have to be offered to other countries such as major trading partners like Australia and New Zealand with even more damaging effects. The removal of special treatment or preferential clauses in trade agreements will be detrimental for Pacific countries because of economies of scale.

* Because of 'major adjustment' and projected loss of tariff revenue under these new WTO-compatible trade agreements, there is the very real danger that VAT and other taxes that hurt consumers will be increased to recoup losses in government revenue, and resources for social sectors may be diverted or reduced. This will mean further deterioration in the quality of public health, water, education and agricultural services due to cost cutting and downsizing measures.

* Governments should resist the use of aid or development assistance by the EU as a pre-condition/bribe to make free trade commitments in the EPA. The EU must take responsibility to match or increase its aid commitments to the Pacific without trying to force Pacific states to make damaging commitments on trade issues, many of which are being rejected within the WTO itself.

* The EPA explicitly promotes privatization (Article 21 of Cotonou). For the benefit of ordinary people and the poor, government should respect and protect the rights of people to basic services, and that these remain the responsibility of the State. The cost of basic public services should be kept at affordable levels for our citizens, and not a 'commodity' that brings in huge profits for shareholders.

* The EU promotes a structural adjustment model as a means for alleviating poverty. This model has not been thoroughly researched and there is no evidence provided by the EU to prove that this model has been successful in other parts of the world. In effect it undermines vulnerable communities with little or no consideration of their lifestyles, needs and basic principles upon which communities are established.

* We call for the protection of Intellectual Property Rights including traditional medicines and culture of indigenous peoples in the EPA negotiations, and reject the WTO-compatible approach to IPR.

* We call for the assured protection of indigenous land rights. In the EPA negotiations the EU may demand that communal ownership of land gives way to private ownership that satisfy the requirements of investors. The EU has already asked PNG and the Solomon Islands to remove their communal land ownership laws that don't allow foreigners to own land.

* The Sovereign right of government to decide policy in the interest of their peoples should not be undermined by trade rules neither should these undermine the democratic rights of citizens to determine their own development.

Signed:

The Ecumenical Center for Research, Education and Advocacy, Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, Fiji Nursing Association (FNA), Fijian Teachers Association, Fiji Teachers Union, National Council of Women Fiji, Consumer Council of Fiji, Pacific Conference of Churches, World Council of Churches - Office of the Pacific, Save the Children Fund Fiji, Citizens Constitutional Forum, Live and Learn Fiji, Pacific Foundation for the Advancement of Women, Fiji Forum of Non-State Actors, Council of Pacific Education, Pacific Concerns Resource Centre, Pacific Island Association of NGOs, Pacific Network on Globalisation.

For more information please contact Stanley Simpson on Phone: 3316 722 Fax: 3311 248

E-mail: pang@connect.com.fj

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