Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Africans Should Confront ''Blind Governments'' on EPAs

The People Left Out!

By Stanley Kwenda

PHOTO: Sarah Mwandiyambira, a Zimbabwean cross-border trader

HARARE, Nov 11 (IPS) - African governments came under fire for ‘‘blindly’’ negotiating the controversial economic partnership agreements (EPAs) and not making an effort to educate ‘‘ordinary people’’ on what they were negotiating. (ROK's Note: Sounds Familiar?)

The politicians, who gather in Geneva for World Trade Organisation (WTO) meetings and in Brussels for EPA talks, should know that they are there on behalf of their citizens and not themselves, said Rangarirai Machemedze, director of the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI). SEATINI helps to build African capacity in world trade talks.

IPS interviewed him at a ‘‘reflective meeting on the state of the economy and sustainable alternatives’’, held last week by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. ZIMCODD is a coalition of like-minded Zimbabwean civil society organisations working in the field of trade and economic development. ‘‘Resources permitting, we need to educate people on what their governments are negotiating for them,’’ Machemedze told IPS.

ZIMCODD is holding meetings in an attempt to step into the breach. ‘‘This meeting is meant to basically try and give participants a clear picture as to how a country's economy operates within the global economy. We want to help them understand and give them a clear picture of the global market place,’’ Dakarayi Matanga, ZIMCODD’s director, told IPS.

One of these people is Sarah Mwandiyambira, a Zimbabwean cross-border trader. She had heard about EPAs before but had not had a chance to get a proper explanation in order to understand what they are and what they really stand for. At one time she was close to her tears after she was given the lowdown on how the EPAs will work once they are signed into binding instruments by the European Union (EU) and African countries.

‘‘This is scary. Something must be done to stop the EPAs. I am only a single woman who survives on cross-border trade to send my children to school.’’ The EPAs have been criticised for opening African countries’ markets too quickly to products from the EU, thereby destroying local production – whether agricultural or industrial.

The EU’s efforts to impose new issues such as equal treatment of foreign and local companies when it comes to government procurement, the liberalisation of services, and other issues, have also drawn protest. Said Mwandiyambira, ‘‘I can't believe this is what our governments are negotiating for us. I believe if all Zimbabweans are to be educated on these EPAs they will disapprove of them. They are only there to take away our economic means.

After these discussions I can tell you that this is a very serious issue which we are taking lightly as Africans.’’ Another participant, Sekai Saungweme, a legal and research consultant based in Harare, was left fuming at the Zimbabwean government after gaining an understanding of what the EPAs are all about: ‘‘It's a very sad scenario and one wonders what our governments are getting into. What was on their minds when they initialled the EPAs? Why did they initial such a flawed deal?’’

Machemedze urged African governments to establish a common togetherness when approaching the negotiations, which have been provisionally signed but are still to be finalised. African governments are not doing what they should be doing, Machemedze insisted.

He also blames European governments and other Western powers of using divisive tactics and the carrot and stick approach in trade talks. ‘‘It's a colonial problem. The powerful nations use divide and rule tactics. For example, if an African country is seeking funding for a dam project then that country is told that if you want funding then you must support EPAs,’’ alleged Machemedze, who has been attending trade negotiation meetings over the past four years.

‘‘Midnight calls are the order of the day at these meetings. There are no fair negotiations. There are visits to the hotel rooms of African negotiators at night where they are promised all kinds of aid.’’

Machemedze also contends that even with the existence of an arbitration court at the WTO, African countries will not be able to take on European countries because of the sheer amount of resources that such cases demand.

He believes that Zimbabwe ‘‘should delink itself from international trade. People might say we are in a global village but what has Africa benefited from it? We have to build our local markets first and then trade on a scale that we can sustain. He suggested that African countries should strengthen their local markets and then try and establish trade links with emerging economic giants such as Brazil, Argentina and India.

"At least they can identify with these emerging economies and learn from these countries,’’ Machemedze concluded. (END/2008)

Source: http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=44652

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