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Africa urged to avoid EPAs

afrol News, 28 January - African governments have been asked to refrain from signing the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union "until comprehensive Human Rights Impacts Assessments are conducted."

In an letter to the 1Oth African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has drawn the attention of African heads of state and governments to the potential adverse effects of these agreements on social and economic rights in African countries, in particular on the human right to food, health, work and development.

The AU Executive Council will use the summit to analyse the status of current negotiations of EPAs. The three-day continental meeting begins on 31 January.

Over the past weeks, a number of so-called Interim Economic Partnership Agreements have been initialled between the European Commission and a number of African countries.

Initiated by the European Commission, the agreements aim to replace the existing trade preferences for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries’ exports under the Cotonou Agreement, which are deemed to phase out under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements, since the waiver authorising them has expired at the end of 2007.

The interim agreements, which are meant to be followed in 2008 by comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements, commit ACP countries to liberalise up to 97% of their trade with the EU over 10 to 15 years. Two years is the tariff liberalisation deadlines for some countries.

FIDH said the insistence by the European Commission's on the removal of export taxes will likely takegreat toll on the public spending of African countries majority of who depend on the taxes to generate funds.

Since many countries have individually signed Interim Agreements, the organisation feared this will likely affect region trade and integration, citing the severe division between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Southern African Customs Union over the issue, which contradicts the proclaimed aims of the EPAs: building upon and reinforcing regional integration.

It also complained about the absence of adequate safeguard protection clauses for agriculture and fragile industries. "Insistence by the European Commission to include commitments on services and investment, making the texts more stringent than required under WTO rules," FIDH said.

FIDH believed that "African states should not be forced to agree to provisions in regional or bilateral agreements which impose which impose ‘WTO-Plus’ commitments, in areas such as services liberalization, the lowering of tariffs on agricultural products, or a strengthened protection of intellectual property rights, especially as regards patents on plants."

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