Brussels, 27 September 2007 (ITUC OnLine) : In a letter addressed to EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) have urged the European Commission to extend the negotiation period of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the 77 countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) beyond the end of December 2007.
“The reality of many ACP countries today is that they are being required to negotiate simultaneously a regional custom union, a bilateral deal with the EU and a multilateral negotiations process through the World Trade Organisation (WTO),” said John Monks, ETUC General Secretary. “Very few countries in the world would be able to successfully take up such a challenge in five years, and the poorest countries are certainly not in a position to do so.”
The pace of the negotiations between the EU and the six ACP regions (Caribbean, Pacific, Eastern Africa, Southern Africa, Central Africa, and Western Africa) is lagging far behind schedule and in virtually all regions, consensus has not yet been reached on crucial aspects of trade liberalisation.
“These issues are far too important to be dealt with in a final rush,” said Guy Ryder, ITUC General Secretary. “In order to ensure that EPAs do not undermine ACP economic and social development, decisions need both consensus and a full understanding of their implications.”
The negotiations on EPAs started officially in September 2002 and are scheduled to be finalized on December 31. Although five years may appear a long period for a trade negotiation, it is in fact very short, given the drastic change that EPA introduces in EU-ACP trade relationships.
The ETUC and ITUC are fully aware of the constraints imposed by the WTO waiver whose expiration is scheduled for the end of this year. Nevertheless both trade union bodies believe the European Commission could obtain common assent from WTO membership for an extension of the negotiation period.
The ETUC exists to speak with a single voice, on behalf of the common interests of workers, at European level. Founded in 1973, it now represents 81 trade union organisations in 36 European countries, plus 12 industry-based federations.