Categorized | Columns, English, WSF 2010


Posted on 24 January 2010 by admin

Kader Arif. Credit: Guillaume Paumier

By Kader Arif (*)

BRUSSELS, Dec (IPS)  At a time when many are already thinking about the end of the economic crisis, few pay attention to the dilemma facing the countries of Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific (ACP). Today, harbouring the illusion that their lack of financial development might insulate ACP countries from the global depression, western politicians have not budged an inch with regard to their policy on these areas.

Throughout Europe, governments are running up deficits, exceeding limits set by the stability pact to meet the needs of a recovery. And the largest world powers, like the United States, take measures to protect themselves from a liberalisation which they themselves seem to have lost control over. And yet they keep asking the poorest countries of the planet to open their markets even more, to reform their public administration, and to renounce essential components of state power, like control over investments or public markets. As if they had to continue implementing a Washington Consensus which even Washington has stopped believing in.

Why is no attention being paid to the impact of the crisis on ACP countries? The damage to them is considerable and real, and numerous examples illustrate this situation. To begin with, there is the 20 percent drop in direct foreign investment in 2008, which will neither advance their development nor their incorporation into the world trading system. And this number does not take into account the considerable impact of the crisis on the remittances sent by migrants living in developed countries, and which a large number of families in the South depend on. On the other hand, the drop in global commodity prices has a major impact on developing economies that depend on export agriculture, which risks further worsening the world food crisis. Indeed, in 2009, another 200 million people joined the already 1.3 billion living on two dollars or less per day. The crisis has therefore dealt a severe blow to the fulfilment of the first of the Millennium Development Goals: eradicating poverty and hunger.

But beyond such directly quantifiable consequences, I am concerned by a more general change taking place in relations between the European Union and the ACP countries. The policies of the International Monetary Fund and the major international lenders in the 1990s were completely counter-productive and caused irreparable damage, but at least they were easily identifiable. Today, no new strategy has emerged to replace of the ultra-liberal orthodoxy now soundly rejected as a failure. We have entered a period of drifting in which a  laissez-faire approach mixes with a growing anxiety in the face of a future which the political decision-makers seem not to know how to shape. Decisions are taken piecemeal, and the crisis serves as a pretext to assert that the European Union now lacks the means to act in solidarity, when in reality it is the lack of projects that we most suffer from.

When Pascal Lamy was trade commissioner for the European Commission, he conceived and outlined a plan for regional integration for the ACP countries. The conclusion of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), which was supposed to be its primary instrument, is now snagged on ACP countries’ reticence to commit to comprehensive regional agreements, which do not take into account the varying levels of development of the countries involved. This is the failure of the aggressive method of negotiation chosen by the Commission, a liberal ideology against which we fought intensely in the European Parliament, acting from an international trade committee with almost no power to influence the negotiations.

Faced with a crisis that threatens both the economies of the ACP countries as well as the future of EU relations with those regions, still more trade liberalisation  and financial disengagement cannot be the answer. If lifting European barriers to ACP exports for 30 years did not allow them to develop, it is not by lack of reciprocity, as some would like to make others think, but rather by lack of accompanying measures. The priority today must be the economic diversification of ACP countries, the development of infrastructures, an increased transfer of technologies, and the support to chains of production allowing for the creation of greater added value. This, of course, without forgetting the need for reinforced development aid, particularly in the fields of education and health. Only an ambitious policy in this direction, with real means and jointly elaborated by the EU and ACP countries, can make it possible to exit the hellish cycle of export crops that assure neither our partners’ economic development nor their food security.

This is the challenge that awaits us at the beginning of the new legislature, with a European Parliament and an international trade committee granted increased powers, which we will use to defend a reorientation of EU trade policy to make development a priority again. The current period of economic crisis underlines the need for parliamentarians to design a new world order, independently from any national or regional selfishness, and oriented towards harmonious development at the global level.

(*) Kader Arif, member of the European Parliament and first Vice-President of the Joint ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly.



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