evelopment issues have risen to
the top of the political agenda, from last years
Make Poverty History campaign to the World Trade
talks. The recent collapse of these talks has dealt
a blow to hopes that the world could build a trading
system that benefits the world’s poor.
The European Union has long been at the forefront
of efforts to rebalance the global trading system.
Since its inception the member states of the European
Union have recognised their responsibility to the
developing world by giving preferential access
to developing countries to the European market.
But the old agreements between the EU and African,
Caribbean and Pacific nations (ACP) were no longer
workable in an increasingly globalised world and
fell foul of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
However, this did not lessen our determination
to provide mechanisms to support the development,
through trade, of some of the poorest countries
in the world. European Parliamentarians have been
some of the strongest and most vocal supporters
of efforts to rebalance the global trading system
in favour of developing countries. The long term
spokesperson for Labour on development issues has
been Glenys Kinnock, who currently chairs the African,
Caribbean, Pacific delegation, an influential trade
and aid position within the EU. Other Labour colleagues
are also heavily involved in these issues with
Linda Mcavan also on the development committee.
As a result of the WTO ruling the European Union
and the nations of the ACP negotiated a new preferential
trade and development agreement. What is known
as the Cotonou Agreement updated the Lomé conventions,
and was in line with WTO rulings. In practice this
meant there needed to be some reciprocity in the
trade provisions so in return for preferential
access for the ACP countries, they needed to provide
some access to their markets for European goods
This is deeply controversial in many circles as
it forces ACP countries to expose their fragile
economies to intense competition from European
firms. However, this is simply unavoidable otherwise
the EU would leave the agreement open to be undermined
by other members of the WTO. The Cotonou agreement
is far from perfect and it institutionalises a
trading system which benefits the mighty and powerful
at the expense of the developing world. Bilateral
deals such as the Cotonou Agreement would be redundant
if we could make progress on the Doha Development
round of the World Trade talks.
As you may be aware these talks collapsed recently
with all sides blaming each other for the failure.
The European Commissioner for Trade, Peter Mandleson
squarely apportioned blame for the failure with
the United States for not being prepared to go
the extra mile in regards to farm subsidies. All
other parties including the European Union were
willing to offer more in order to reach an agreement.
It is also clear that the European Union must
accept some of the blame for not offering a root
and branch reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
The CAP is bad for almost everyone but only benefits
an ever decreasing number of French farmers and
agri-business. It is bad for EU consumers as it
keeps food prices artificially high, it is bad
for EU taxpayers and most of all it is grossly
unfair to farmers in the developing world. Peter
Mandleson was restrained at the WTO talks on just
what he could offer on the CAP and he certainly
pushed the limitations of his brief as far as he
Unfortunately, until we see the power of the farming
lobby in France reduced or politicians who are
willing to grasp the nettle of the CAP then we
are unlikely to get significant and meaningful
reform of this outdated policy.
What is most disheartening about the failure of
the Doha round is this opportunity to rebalance
global trade may be lost for a number of years.
A number of the key players will be holding elections
and under that climate progress is unlikely to
be made. The European Union must now ensure that
some of the provisions negotiated recently are
still implemented regardless of whether we have
an all-encompassing deal.
The EU should use bilateral deals like those of
Cotonou and utilise Economic Partnership Agreements
to help alleviate poverty in large parts of the
world. The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)
are bilateral deals and could be a powerful tool
to aid the development of ACP countries and the
EU must ensure they are properly implemented both
in Europe and in developing countries. They could
have a real impact on the lives of millions of
people by integrating developing economies into
the global system, allowing these states to share
in the benefits of globalisation, but to do so
on a more equitable basis. However, the EPAs are
far from perfect. EPAs break the unity of the ACP
and enable these states to be pressurised by the
EU into unfair trade deals. For too long ACP states
have been functioning as neo-colonial economies
supplying raw materials and as purchasers of western
products. What they really need is access to our
markets and protection from undue competition.
This will enable them to develop their economies
and tie them into the global economy.
If these states can work to bring themselves out
of poverty, everything from aid to Fair Trade products
would become redundant; this is an aim we must
work harder to achieve. The reality of politics
is such that our aspirations must also be balanced
with pragmatism. Those who work in the development
sector must approach the Economic Partnership Agreements
and trade issues more generally with what is politically
achievable, not a wish list of aims.
In practice, this means if we want to achieve
a more balanced trading system with ACP countries
any agreement has to conform to WTO rules and therefore
some level of reciprocity is required. The European
Union has sought to reduce this level of reciprocity
to a minimum thereby ensuring the maximum possible
benefit to the ACP countries while remaining consistent
with WTO rules.
The aims of the Make Poverty History campaign,
while noble, seem ever hollower in the light of
the hard politics of trade. The EU has done more
than most when it comes to improving market access
for the ACP states but both the US and EU must
and can do more. If we want to see a global system
of rules which enshrine a level playing field then
we need to work harder for the Doha round to succeed.
Until then we are left with the unsatisfactory
bilateral trade deals like the EPAs. The EPAs are
a blunt and imperfect tool but in the absence of
a successful conclusion to the Doha round they
offer the best opportunity to improve market access
for farmers in the developing world.
Claude Moraes is a Labour MEP for London & Martin
Caldwell is a Parliamentary Researcher