The European Union has been working hard at pressurising developing countries into free trade agreements under the misnomer of “Economic Partnership Agreements”, or EPAs. These offer tariff-free access to the EU’s single market for (mainly) agricultural products – but they come at a price.
Firstly they limit countries’ ability to strike their own trade deals. This particularly affects Africa, where Botswana, Namibia, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Swaziland held out for years before signing EPAs. But there’s more.
Look at the EU’s own website and it tells you that “last but certainly not least, [EPAs] are also designed to be drivers of change that will help kick-start reform and contribute to good economic governance. This will help ACP [African, Caribbean and Pacific] partners attract investment and boost their economic growth.”
In other words, if you want to trade with the EU, you have to become like the EU. And few countries in Africa can afford to stop trading with the EU. It’s regime change, enforced by trade.
Even some in the European Parliament acknowledge this. “In particular, African countries are caught in the dilemma of losing their preferential market access for the few products they export to the EU if they do not sign the EPAs, versus their longer-term development prospects if they do sign the EPAs,” wrote a team in a report for the EU Parliament’s Committee on Development in 2014.
The report went on: “The threats presented by EPAs as articulated by many stakeholders include: significant tariff revenue losses, loss in policy space and threats to local industries, unemployment, serious disruption of existing or planned customs unions and the displacement of existing regional trade and regional production capacities.”
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