Government responds to trade badger

A while ago I used the Facebook application Superbadger to hassle the government over trade justice. This is the email I sent, with their reply below.

“Dear Minister

Almost two years after EPA talks were due to conclude, negotiations are far from over. More than half of the ACP countries have not reached any form of agreement because of their deep concern with the proposed deals.

Following the 2007 deadline for wrapping up EPAs, the European Commission promised to be more flexible. Instead it has:
• continued to push countries into liberalising further and faster than is wanted or appropriate for these economies
• insisted that countries sign Interim EPAs, without removing ‘contentious issues’, despite regular requests from ACP countries for these to be renegotiated
• persisted in pressuring countries to take on new obligations that go beyond what is required under World Trade Organisation rules.

The EU’s approach to EPAs has failed to provide a basis for development-friendly agreements and has set back regional integration. This is unacceptable – a new approach must be taken.

Please urge the Commission to:
• unconditionally renegotiate contentious issues in Interim EPAs
• stop pushing to extend the agreements beyond trade in goods
• fully support any requests from ACP countries for alternative solutions.

Yours sincerely”

They replied

Thank you for your e-mail to the Minister. Thank you for your emailed correspondence about Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

Trade has a vital role to play in economic and human development. That is why the UK Government is committed to concluding development-friendly Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

The UK Government has consistently pressed the European Commission to be flexible in negotiating EPAs and believes that ACP countries should decide upon the content, scope and timing of their respective EPAs, within the limits of compatibility with the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). As stated in our recent White Paper, “Eliminating World Poverty: Building our Common Future,” we have used our influence to shape EPAs, ensuring that they provide ACP countries with:

    • Duty and quota free access to EU markets.
    • Long transition periods for developing countries to open up their markets.
    • Safeguards that allow countries to protect vital products.

While we continue to urge maximum flexibility from the Commission on EPAs negotiations, we do not believe that it is in the best interest of any party to re-open the negotiations on interim EPAs. We need to conclude these agreements by signing them to prevent WTO legal challenges. Otherwise ACP countries risk serious trade disruption by losing preferential access to EU markets. However, we have secured a commitment from the European Commission to review any provisions that ACP countries may wish to reconsider in the context of moving from interim to full regional EPAs and are supporting ACP countries to undertake their own analysis to further the negotiations.

Although we believe that the inclusion of deeper integration issues such as services, investment and competition in EPAs can be of benefit to ACP countries, we have consistently encouraged the Commission to ensure that such issues are only included in EPAs if and when specifically requested by the ACP countries concerned. For example, while the Caribbean counties requested the inclusion of services and investment in the EU-CARIFORUM EPA, the West African region has chosen instead to pursue a regional goods-only EPA, negotiations for which are actively under way. We welcome the way in which the Commission has respected the different decisions of the two regions.
Regional integration is vitally important for development and we will continue to urge the Commission to fully support the development of regional integration mechanisms. EPAs can stimulate cross-border trade within the region by reducing barriers to trade between ACP countries in the regional EPAs, creating conditions for greater competition, business and job opportunities. This is why we consider it a priority to continue to negotiate full regional EPAs  with each EPA region. The UK is also working with regional trade groups to ensure ACP countries benefit from the growth and regional integration opportunities that EPAs offer, through support for infrastructure, private sector development and improving trade across borders.

Looking forward, it will be essential to have appropriate mechanisms in place to monitor the development impact of EPAs and to assess their impact on poverty alleviation. We will continue to work with the European Commission and ACP countries to ensure that EPAs deliver real development benefits to poor countries.

Thank you for your interest in these matters.
Kind regards,
BIS Ministerial Correspondence and Enquiry Unit

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