Human rights must be at the centre of the negotiations of Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and ACP countries

On the occasion of the European Council meeting on 21 and 22 June 2007 (Bruxelles), of the 13th EU ACP Joint Parliamentary Assembly in Wiesbaden (Germany) between 23 and 28 June 2007 and of the 9th ordinary session of the African Union Conference to be held between 25 June and 3 July 2007 in Accra (Ghana), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) publishes a position paper on human rights and Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) which are currently being negotiated between the EU and the African -Caribbean - Pacific (ACP) countries.

The revision of EU-ACP relations in accordance with the dominant paradigm of international trade will mean further liberalisation of exchanges and markets (suppression of trade barriers, reinforcement of the reciprocity between partners) and presents serious threats to human rights in particular of the most vulnerable groups in ACP countries because of the inequalities of development between the parties. FIDH’s note reviews the potential impacts of EPAs on a range of human rights. However, all negotiating parties are bound to respect human rights through international conventions. States including EU member States would thus be held responsible not to have respected, protected and fulfilled human rights, in particular through international cooperation and assistance, while at a minimum, they have to refrain from leading action that could hinder the exercise of these rights in third countries (art 2.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

FIDH addresses a number of recommendations to the States currently negotiating EPAs and to the European Commission, that has been mandated to conduct the negotiations in the name of the EU, asking for independent human rights impact assessments to be conducted and duly considered in the framework of the negotiations and the implementation of EPAs, and that discussions do not lead in great hurry to the conclusion of agreements that would lead to violations of the human rights of several million people.

Through the Lomé Conventions and the Cotonou Agreement, ACP countries benefited from a privileged access to the European market. The relations between the EU and ACP countries now have to conform to WTO rules, as the waiver obtained at the WTO is due to expire on December 31, 2007. EPAs are also part of a wider strategy of the EU seeking to redefine its trading relations with external partners in order to reinforce its presence on the international economic scene, and are supposed to foster integration of ACP countries into world trade.

In this context, FIDH’s paper sheds light on a number of potentially negative impacts on human rights: the creation of a free-trade area between the EU and ACP countries threatens the ACP economies, submitted to harsh competition of more competitive products in particular of agricultural products thanks to higher productivity rates and to high public subsidies. Work and revenues of a large proportion of the population of ACP countries which depend on a subsistence agriculture, are put at risk by the total liberalisation of markets, endangering the right to work and the right to an adequate standard of living, in particular the right to food, guaranteed by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The liberalisation of exchanges by diminishing customs incomes of States and by restricting their capacity to regulate certain sectors in the field of services may endanger fundamental rights such as the right to health, the right to water, if already fragile states are not able to conduct the adequate public policies needed for the realisation of these rights. Several other provisions included in EPAs (intellectual property rules, Singapore issues) are also of great concern for the respect of human rights.

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