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This workshop discussed the impact of EU-Africa trade agreements, namely EPAs, that have been negotiated over the past years on women’s livelihoods and poverty in Africa. Approaches of grassroots resistance against neoliberal free trade regimes in Africa and Europe were explored, and feminist demands highlighted.
Janice G. Foerde, director at gender and development network KULU Denmark (moderator)
Akua Britwum, professor Cape Coast University Ghana Her research and publications cover among others: the economics of violence against women, gender and land rights, gender and leadership in trade unions, organizing informal economy workers (speaker)
Notes from the workshop
The EPAs need to be seen in the history of European-African relations, starting with the treaty of Rome. The initial post-colonial relations were based on the idea to make up for the colonial period. It was geared to supporting African development. The EPAs break with this tradition. It is a free trade agreement.
What is wrong with the EPAs?
While the EU argued that trade should be based on WTO regulations, it goes much further than current WTO regulation, for example the Singapore issues are included.
Another example is that the levels of liberalization are set for 70-80 % on a vague time scale. This is even according to the IMF harmful that does not recommend liberalizations above 60 %.
One of the many issues with EPAs is the removal of tax, for example, EPAs want to take out taxes on raw coco, yet this is an important source of revenue: how does Ghana then create domestic resource mobilization with a part of its taxes coming from export on goods?
Also with an informal job market and it calls for privatization in services.
Finally the EPAs break the regional integration with the most favoured clause, meaning that trade favors between South-South neighbors also need to apply to EU countries. The ECOWAS has been breached and this is not the only region this has happened (see East Africa).
Our concerns as feminists:
- Gendered effects of liberalised policies
- Implications for social provisions
- Threat to subsistence
- Shrinking livelihood and employment options (agriculture threats)
- Structured existing informal trading systems of women are threatened.
- issues around national ownership and good governance.
- Transparency within policy making e.g. limited reporting in the media about the impact of EPAs. In Ghana, for example, this raises the issue of national ownership of development policies
What can we do as activists?
Networking and policy engagement.
Look at policy developments and studies of influential countries like Germany and UK.
EPAs needs more visibility: we need naming and shaming. There is a need to build alternatives
She underlined the presentation from Akua: EPAs are a free trade agreement moving beyond WTO serving the interests and agenda of the EU, like the raw materials agenda. It undermines regional integration in Africa.
African countries are being asked to sign away their long term futures on basis that EU has ‘pledged’ to send certain amount of money in aid. She also underlined that African countries are not unaware of the damaging aspects to EPAs, but some feel pushed to sign. One reason could be some few influential businesses in their countries in addition to EU pressure (threats regarding loss of trading preference).
EPAs is similar to the TTIP and CETA. And they are both gender blind.
And there are also linkages to the SDGs: SDGs call for domestic resource mobilization. It will lead to huge amounts of income through revenue being missed. And think also about the illicit money flows. This money is by no means made up through the promised development aid. What is actually coming is a fraction of the taxes that could be collected. In similar vein: while Africa will be threatened with climate change effects, the money promised is far from adequate.
One participant highlighted that Nigeria had not signed the EPAs but it will be difficult to make a front for Nigeria. The country is under immense pressure to sign. Now looking to see if they can implement without Nigeria in that ‘block.’ Since it is not possible to guard its borders with all four countries, it might be easy to smuggle good to a neighbor and send them to the EU cheaply from there. However she remains proud that her nation stands strong and calls for solidarity with Nigeria. Need to find a way to unite West African countries to oppose EPAs.
Edmé spoke about the NAFTA (US-Mexico) and how in Latin America free trade deals were signed many years before the EPAs. Damaging effects are visible and compared to Africa, there was not so much knowledge available during the negotiation. CSOs weren’t that strong in the process.
There are is a lot of knowledge available on damages of the EPAs (see for example UNCTAD conferences) and on top of that Mariama commented that Ghana had already a similar experiment like the EPAs: The SAPs (Structural Adjustment Programmes). These have led to a de-industrialization of Ghana.
While civil society in Africa has mobilized the challenge is that now negotiations are going on in private.
Questions posed were:
– What is the role of China in Africa.
– What is the role of women in trade unions in West Africa.
Conclusions, way forward
We need to find space for real development options.
We need to look at what options there are in terms of networking across continents. There is more work that can be done in Europe to challenge EPAs and resources available that can be tapped into.
And a lot of work needs to be done in Europe, where we need to reach European politicians:
-How do we get CSOs on board in Europe?
-How do we make linkages between the knowledges and energies around the TTIP and EPAs
-How do we strengthen countries that resist EPAs?
- Engage civil society in Europe – to build resistance to regressive trade policies such as the EPAs. While Europe has mobilised again TTIP, there is far less interest in the EPAs. Many trade policies created in Europe are highly detrimental to African economics. Therefore, there’s more work to be done in Europe and resources available that can be tapped into – we should be building a network.
- Name and shame countries with regressive policies – solidarity movements should work together to highlight policies in EU countries, for example, arms trade policies between the UK and Saudi Arabia, that facilitate war in Yemen.