EU trade: Economic Affairs Secretary promises support for alternatives to Economic Partnership Agreements

21 June 2006

EU trade: Economic Affairs Secretary promises support for alternatives to Economic Partnership Agreements

Christian Democrat (CDA) Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Karien Van Gennip has given an undertaking to the SP that, in discussion with her European Union colleages regarding so-called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), every possible alternative will be considered. She further assured SP Member of Parliament and Economic Affairs spokesman Ewout Irrgang that she would give her support to these alternative trade agreements and take a flexible approach to trade qith developing countries.

The Secretary of State gave these assurances during today's debate on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) where, amongst other issues, the progress of the Doha development round was discussed. Named after the Middle Eastern city where this phase of negotiations began, the Doha development round is aimed at resolving issues concerning the liberalisation of world trade, in particular as it affects questions of development and the interests of developing countries.

Economic Partnership Agreements are free trade accords which the European Union wishes to draw up with a large number of developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The SP has long drawn attention to the major drawbacks of these agreements, in particular the way in which they involve pressurising developing countries into making their markets at least 90% open to foreign imports. As Ewout Irrgang put it, “The EU is now trying to slip in through the back door of bilateral trade agreements the extreme liberalisation which it has not managed to achieve through the WTO. This is bad for developing countries.”

A range of alternatives to these EPAs has been proposed by a number of different organisations. The SP hopes to see these taken seriously in discusiion, both in the Netherlands and at European level. “Trade ministers from the African Union recently issued a declaration stated that they would be interested in making use of these alternatives, he said, adding that “You can't just ignore that.”

In today's debate the Secretary of State responded to urging from the SP by promising that in the autumn, following an evaluation of the existing EPAs, she would give her support to a thorough discussion of these proposed alternatives, and that she would adopt a flexible approach in relation to trade with developing countries. Mr Irrgang gave a cautios welcome to these assurances and promised in his turn to keep a close eye on developments.

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