UK says poor will suffer in trade plan

Original Publication Date: 
21 March, 2005

Planned trade deals between the EU and the world's poorest countries must be radically rethought to allow poor nations to liberalise markets at their own pace and in their own time, the UK will demand today.

The trade and industry secretary, Patricia Hewitt, will urge Europe's trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, to put development before the interests of European firms when negotiating economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with nations in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Providing the first evidence of the government's intention to follow through on the recommendations of Tony Blair's Africa commission, Ms Hewitt will say she is responding to concerns raised by aid agencies that the deals would foist unacceptable conditions on poor nations.

The trade secretary will tell a meeting of the Make Poverty History group: "Each ACP [African, Caribbean, Pacific] regional group should make its own decisions on the timing, pace, sequencing, and product coverage of market opening in line with individual countries' national development plans and poverty reduction strategies.

"We will not force trade liberalisation on developing countries either through trade negotiations or aid conditionality. We should make an unconditional offer of complete duty and quota-free market access within EPAs."

Although aid agencies have been impressed by Mr Mandelson's pro-development rhetoric, they believe European commission officials want the new agreements to incorporate rapid market opening and the inclusion of agreements in new areas such as investment, competition and government procurement.

Britain believes that it can build a pre-development coalition on trade among EU member states. Ms Hewitt will say today that the so-called "new issues" should be removed from the negotiations unless specifically requested by developing countries.

"It is for ACP regional groups to judge the development benefits of any agreements on these issues and the EU should not push for them to be discussed. If included, any negotiations on government procurement should be limited to transparency," she will add.

Aid agencies, which heard of Ms Hewitt's proposals in advance of her speech, welcomed the news. "The UK government has stuck its neck out and challenged Mandelson on the EC's current approach to African trade negotiations. It's a measure of how bad the current European approach has been that the UK's language is so strong", said the Catholic aid agency Cafod.