Civil Society Rises Up against EPAs

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By Catherine Sasman

WINDHOEK

Namibian civil society organisations are slowly but surely raising their voices against the apparent strong-armed tactics of the European Union (EU) to have African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries sign the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).

After a foiled handing over of an open letter to the European Commission in Windhoek on Monday, a number of civil society organisations nonetheless came out yesterday, expressing their concerns over the EPAs.

The handing over of the open letter was to coincide with the European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson’s meeting with SADC ministers of trade and industry in Gaborone, Botswana.

The letter, still to be handed over to the Namibian-based European Commission’s office, was signed by the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), Komeho Namibia Development Agency (Komeho Namibia), the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW), the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), CLaSH, LARRI, Ndatinda College, Namibia Rural Development Programme (NRDP), and Women Solidarity Namibia.

The group said they are worried about the negative effects of the initialled Interim EPA (IEPA) on the SADC regional integration process and mounting pressure on the integrity of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).

Namibia initialled the IEPA with an accompanying statement containing a condition that the initialling was contingent on the assurance that the unresolved issues encountered during 2007 would be reopened for negotiation in 2008.

This came after the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, assured African governments during last December’s EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon that they would have the opportunity to address the “fundamentally flawed” IEPAs, the civil society groups said.

“We would like to reiterate the Declaration of African Trade Ministers in December 2007, the African Union Resolution and the statement by the Brussels-based African Group of Ambassadors in February 2008, to reopen the contentious issues in IEPAs for negotiation to align the EC’s EPA-agenda with the AU-agenda for African economic integration,” the group said.

Failure to do so, the group said, would be inconsistent with the binding provisions of the Cotonou Agreement regarding economic development, regional integration and poverty alleviation”.

“The time has come to listen to the voices from southern Africa, and in this regard we call on you to stop the EC’s EPA agenda and to stop trying to re-colonise Africa!” the civil society players said.

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