The much-hyped trade and development agreements currently under negotiation between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries could put forests and the livelihoods of communities dependent on them at serious risk, argues a new report by Friends of the Earth.
The NGO warns that the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) designed by former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson would impose an economic model on developing countries based on the export of raw materials that could seriously devastate their forests and wildlife.
One of the most controversial elements of the agreements highlighted in the report is an obligation for developing country signatories to lift rules limiting the export of logs and other raw materials. This already seems to be happening in Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon, which have initialled interim EPAs, according to the report. In addition, a requirement to liberalise investment in the forestry and agricultural sectors would give European corporations improved access to ACP natural resources, potentially leading to deforestation and the expulsion of small farm owners in favour of more export-oriented agriculture.
Although the EU has acknowledged the adverse environmental effects of trade liberalisation in previous Sustainability Impact Assessments (SIA), any mention of the impact on forests is conspicuously absent from SIAs of EPAs, Friends of the Earth points out. The bloc is overlooking “some very serious environmental and social concerns” by prioritising access to natural resources in order to safeguard European competitiveness and is sacrificing its commitment to sustainable development in the process, it states.
The NGO urges the EU to seriously rethink its trade strategy towards the developing world after new Trade Commissioner Baroness Ashton takes over (EURACTIV 21/10/08). It believes that now is the right moment to act, as the passing of the 2007 deadline for the EPA negotiations and reluctance to sign off the ACP with little to gain mean that the political pressure to continue has diminished.
“The EU needs a new trade strategy which takes into account the needs of poor countries and allows them to protect their economies and environment from the worst excesses of the market,” concluded Friends of the Earth’s trade campaigner Sarah-Jayne Clifton.
The EU says it wants to put an end to global forest cover loss by 2030, with a 50% reduction in tropical forest destruction by 2020. Last week, it proposed to set up a new global fund, known as the Global Forest Carbon Mechanism (GFCM), which could provide developing countries the incentives necessary to undertake actions against deforestation (EURACTIV 20/10/08). Deforestation accounts for 20% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The EU chose to negotiate EPAs which guarantee trade reciprocity as it became clear that preferential arrangements with the ACP were no longer feasible following the expiry of the legal WTO waiver on 1 January 2008.