4th Feb 2023

Mandelson takes tough line on poor countries

  • Tough talk from the trade commissioner (Photo: European Commission)

A letter leaked to The Guardian newspaper late Wednesday (18 May) has shown that EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson wants to take a tough line on development countries and has berated the UK for being too influenced by NGOs' agendas.

Trade pundits and NGOs are up in arms about the letter.

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Mr Mandelson's views on developing countries comes just weeks before the UK is set to host the annual G8 summit of the world's richest countries in Scotland.

In the run up to the meeting, Prime Minister Tony Blair has made poverty reduction in Africa one of his government's top goals.

The letter, by one of Brussels' top trade officials, Peter Carl, says that although the UK "has taken onboard too much" of the agenda promoted by celebrities and development NGOs, the Commission will continue to push for market liberalisation in the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific trade group.

The UK stance, according to the letter, "could well make progress with EPA negotiations more difficult by reinforcing the views of the more sceptical ACP states and raising the prospect of alternatives that are, in reality, impractical".

Special relations

ACP countries have had a special trade relationship with the EU since the 1970s as part of the Lome Conventions and later with the Cotonou Agreement.

The World Trade Organisation has pushed the EU to create "Economic Partnership Agreements" (EPAs) with the ACP countries to continue the special relationship as it considers the current arrangement to be against global trade rules.

The partnership agreements have come under fire by many NGOs and ACP governments, as well as the UK, for requiring too much trade liberalisation too quickly for the weaker economies to be able to handle.

"The European Commission clearly wants to use EPAs as a tool to open markets and further its own interests. This is not good. EPAs in their current form would be detrimental to development," said an Oxfam spokeswoman.

"They are free trade agreements by any other name and are currently designed to get the most for Europe without the necessary consideration of the negative effects on weaker developing country partners", she continued.

Market access

According to the Guardian, the Labour party's manifesto urges a transition period of 20 years for poorer countries to give the same kind of access to their markets from the Western world.

However, Mr Mandelson's vision of the EPAs would require only a few years before EU countries would be granted access to the developing markets.

The EPAs give a focus to regional cooperation and developing markets between neighbouring countries rather than giving additional access to the lucrative EU market as had been the case in previous agreements between the EU and ACP.

Brussels had hoped to wrap up the EPA negotiations later this year but in many regions, the EPA negotiations are just getting off the ground.

A meeting last week in Kenya between the EU and governments of Eastern and Southern African countries that produced no concrete results showed how early the negotations still are in many regions.

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