Sunday, October 28, 2007

Declaration of the Haitian "Block the EPA" coalition

(The following declaration of several progressive Haitian organizations speaking out against the adoption of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) agreements with Europe was forwarded to me, and it seemed of great enough general interest to repost here. For my part, I have been following the progress of the EPAs in an EU-Africa context from here in Paris, and Haitians are not the only ones voicing concern, for sure. as I have written about some of the objections that have been voiced by African nations before. Something slightly worrisome to me about the press release below, though: Nowhere can I see does it address the pervasive corruption of the Haitian state that has also played a major role in strangling development and economic growth (and pummeling the poor), regardless of the professed political ideology of whoever may be in power at any given moment. I think that that the Haitians themselves need to do a bit of soul-searching on this issue, and not be simply content to blame all of their woes on outside forces. I realize that many of the signatory organizations here have been pushing for better governance in Haiti for many years, but on a wider level in public discourse, I think there needs to be a greater acknowledgement of this problem in Haiti and not just the wink-wink tolerance of it that is often the case. MD)

Declaration of the Haitian coalition, ‘Block the EPA’

Port-au-Prince, 17 October 2007.

Translated from French by Charles Arthur for the Haiti Support Group.

The member organizations of the ‘Block the EPA coalition’ hereby state
their position on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by
providing the following succinct arguments justifying our approach. In
the following document we will reiterate our critiques, our demands and
our recommendations.

The ‘Block the EPA coalition’ members salute the courage, awareness,
and determination of hundreds of Haitian organizations and citizens who
have participated in the mobilizations that have taken place over
recent weeks. We also salute the involvement of numerous artists and
musical groups in the anti-EPA mobilizations, notably the Dahomey Dance
Troup, AWOZAM, the artists from the Chandel popular organization, and
the musicians of Boukman Eksperyans, who, by lending their support to
this cause, have once again shown their renewed commitment to the
struggle to defend our country’s future.

The lively interest generated by the campaign was evident during the 16
October demonstration through the streets of Port-au-Prince from the
Place Catherine Flon in Champ de Mars to the Karibe Conference Centre.
Several hundred people, representing organizations from the provinces
as well as the capital, chanted “Block the EPA”, arousing an
enthusiastic response from thousands of spectators and passers-by.

More than 7,500 people have already signed the petition against the
EPA, and thousands more attended a free concert in Place Jérémie on
Sunday, 14 October.

We are sure that the mobilization will only grow in strength in the
coming weeks.

Numerous conferences, press conferences, workshops with the media, and
information seminars for grassroots organizations from seven of the
country’s ten departments, have already taken place. This public
campaign, focused on providing information, training, and advocacy
around the issues of Economic Partnership Agreements for the Africa,
Caribbean and Pacific region (ACP) countries, in particular Haiti, is
being carried out in the context of a struggle between the superpowers
for control of the world’s markets.

1. The reality of the EPAs

The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)proposed by the European
Union do not constitute a framework of partnership, but are essentially
neo-liberal-inspired free market agreements that prolong imperialist
domination and a neo-colonial vision, and which aim to strengthen the
position of European multinationals in the context of the rivalry
between the most powerful economic trade blocs. In an October 2006
document, the European Community declared its ambition to control the
majority of the global market by the year 2010.

The EPA requires (with few exceptions) a complete trade liberalization.
Our country has already lived with, and is still living with, the
disastrous consequences of the liberalization imposed by the
International Finance Institutions (IFIs) in the 1980s and with even
greater force since the years 1994-95. Haiti has become one of the
countries most open to foreign trade, with existing import tariffs set
at an average of 2.9% and the vast majority of the imported products
coming in with a zero tariff. This situation is largely responsible for
the collapse of whole sectors of the peasant economy which currently
generates only 25% of annual GDP, and can barely produce 48% of the
food consumed in our country. Following this accelerated
liberalization, our country has entered a period of rapid economic
decline, which has plunged the vast majority of the population (76%)
into extreme poverty. We have also witnessed an explosion in
unemployment. According to available information, in the sectors
producing rice, sugar, chickens and eggs, more than 830,000 jobs have
been destroyed by the liberalization of the 1990s. We cannot accept a
continuation along the same path. Agreements like the EPA will
accelerate the destruction of our economy.

2. The consequences of the EPAs for the poor

The EPAs have been widely denounced by bodies like the International
Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Caribbean Policy Development
Center (CPDC), the Caribbean Labor Council (CCL), by hundreds of
organizations in Europe and the ACP countries, and even by governments
concerned about the negative impact of these agreements on all the
countries concerned. In general terms, it is possible to predict
massive shocks with devastating effects that will vary according to
each nation’s specific situation. A report issued in 2006 by a working
group of French members of Parliament concluded that the EPAs will
inevitably lead to four types of shocks:

- A budgetary shock. There will be a significant reduction in customs
revenue for countries which have important trade with the European
markets. (In Haiti, the loss of customs revenue as a direct consequence
of the EPA is estimated by the Ministry of Trade and Industry will be
at least US$8m. annually. Only 10% of Haitian imports currently come
from EU countries but it is anticipated that there will be an increase
of around 10% per annum over the next five years). This blow will cause
a reduction in the welfare state’s capacity in the areas of health,
education, environment, the creation of productive employment, and the
strengthening of vital sectors of the national economy;

- A balance of payments shock with a rapid deterioration in the trade
deficit, making the country more vulnerable and more dependent, and
complicating macroeconomic management. Remember that Haiti with annual
imports of about US$2bn. and exports of US$600m is experiencing a
structural trade deficit which has worsened rapidly in recent years.
The absence of policies designed to enhance the productive capacities
of the country raises fears of an exponential growth in imports that
will jeopardize the country’s productive sectors;

- A blow to agriculture by putting farmers already operating in a
hostile environment in direct competition with European agricultural
products enjoying a high level of productivity and generous subsidies.
Haiti today imports nearly US$40m of dairy products each year, even
though we have a stock of 450,000 head of cattle that, with sustained
investment and improved infrastructure, would be perfectly capable of
meeting domestic demand. We already import a large quantity of dairy
products from Europe. With the EPA, this dependency will increase,
depriving our country of the possibility of a drive to transform the
livestock industry and dairy production. All recent studies indicate
the great potential of this sector, and such a drive could have clear
positive effects in terms agriculture and industry. It is sufficient to
refer to the success of initiatives such as "Lèt Agogo” (Milk Galore)
carried out by several peasant organizations supervised by Veterimed
and other organizations;

- An industrial shock ruining the ACP countries’ embryonic
industrialization efforts by exposing them to competition from
industrial products coming from Europe. Similarly, the situation of
basic social services, from which a large part of the Haitian
population is already excluded, is likely to worsen with the
penetration of the major European multinational companies which are
among the most efficient in the service sector. There is a danger that
an existing trend of de-industrialization will be accentuated by once
again accelerating an increase in unemployment, by a regressive
specialization ruining any opportunity for diversification, and by
increased dependency on European multinational companies that are sure
to speed up the process of privatization and the deregulation of key
service sectors (e.g. education, health, telecommunications, etc.). All
this will accentuate what is already underway with the commitments
undertaken by our country in the context of GATS-driven multilateral
negotiations at the WTO. This trend will worsen the exclusion and
marginalization of entire sections of our population.

3. Ten reasons why we must reject the EPAs

Having carefully read the 154 pages of a draft agreement governing
economic relations between the 27 EU countries and 17 countries of
CARIFORUM, dated September 19, 2007; after conducting multi-sectoral
consultations and debates since May 2007; and after analyzing the
impact assessment studies conducted in several different regions -
notably in Kenya and Haiti, especially by the European Union with its
PRIMA program - the ‘Block the EPA coalition’ demands the withdrawal of
this agreement for the following reasons:

3.1 It is a neo-liberal inspired free trade agreement written in the
framework of a subordinate integration into the world market in a
context characterized by brutal asymmetries and struggles between
different regional blocs for a share of the global market. Any
agreement with these characteristics can only heavily penalize ACP

3.2 It is an agreement establishing reciprocal relationships without
regard to the concept of special and differential treatment or to the
huge disparity between, on one hand, the world’s major economic power,
with nearly 29% of global GDP, and on the other, a region with ultra
poor countries, (out of the 79 ACP countries, 39 of them are LDCs)
which have an average per capita income US$450.00 a year.

3.3 It is an agreement that purports to align itself with WTO rules,
but in many ways goes much further, particularly in the following
areas: services, agriculture, government procurement, and intellectual
property. While multilateral negotiations are at an impasse, it
attempts to impose a WTO + enabling this organization’s dominant
countries to go even further than their already stated ambitions

3.4 It is a clear regression in relation to the spirit of the Lomé
Conventions and the Cotonou Agreement, in that the issue of the
development of the ACP countries is not a priority in the current
agreement. The development of free trade cannot on its own lead to a
real development process. What a thought!

3.5 The agenda for discussions and negotiations clearly reflects the
priorities of the European Union. Issues that are vital to our region,
such as the management and protection of the Caribbean Sea, the common
heritage of our nations, mass tourism and its negative social impacts,
agricultural production and crafts, poverty, unemployment and
underemployment, migration’s effect in depriving the region of a
substantial part of its skilled human resources, trade networks between
Caribbean countries, the redistribution of wealth, and so on, have been
marginalized or ignored altogether. There are no mechanisms to
strengthen the institutional and productive capacities of the region.
The allusions to sustainable development (requested by the NGO
community in the region) are just wishful thinking and remain
statements of principle. In this sense, a special program of support
for micro-enterprises and SMEs should have been considered.

3.6 The negotiations have not permitted the creation of real spaces for
participation and discussion. In the case of Haiti, the situation is
even worse. The negotiations are conducted in an atmosphere of
quasi-confidentiality. Haiti is participating in group negotiations
concerning 1) market access, 2) investment, 3) good governance, and 4)
business institutions, but without any substantial information having
been made available to society as to the content of the negotiations or
the commitments made by Haiti. In 2003, the Haitian government mandated
CARICOM to negotiate the EPA on its behalf while taking into account
its LDC status. However, the negotiators acting on our behalf have not
been provided with any directives explaining our national economic
situation or the state of trade relations between Haiti and the
European Union. Between 2004 and 2006, there was a break in diplomatic
relations between the interim (Latortue) government and the leaders of
CARICOM. This situation requires clarification in relation to what
commitments were made by other actors in the name of our country during
the most intense period of negotiations.

3.7 The timetable for the negotiations, based as it is on the EU’s
insistence on the need to fall in line with WTO rules, is no longer
justified at the present time. Indeed, multilateral negotiations are at
an impasse at the WTO. Everything seems to indicate that no consensus
solution is on the horizon at least for the next two years. The
deadline of January 2008 should be revised accordingly by giving
countries a space to set up extensive consultations and a thorough
discussion with all sectors. We need a process of inclusive,
participatory and transparent negotiation, out of which a national
development strategy can be developed with the participation of all
sectors of national life.

3.8 The EPAs threaten to decapitalize the productive sectors of the ACP
countries, particularly Haiti. It is clear that this agreement
represents a threat to food sovereignty of ACP countries by leading to
an extension of the practice of large monoculture plantations. The
brutal proletarianization of an important part of the small peasantry
will cause social problems on a large scale. Why jeopardize the future
of more than 60% of the Haitian population to satisfy the desire of the
European powers?

3.9 We believe that the negotiators from the Caribbean region have
committed a grave error in accepting that the tariffs to be applied
will be based on the mathematical average of the rates applied by the
CARIFORUM countries. This approach is likely to be detrimental to
countries with weaker and smaller economies.

3.10 The exclusion lists, the special safeguards, the provisions for
special products, and the financial compensations and adjustments, all
seem to us to be quite inadequate. We are being asked to make
structural changes in our economies and our institutions, while the
total funding allocated under the 10th EDF only promises an envelope of
165 million Euros over the period 2008 – 2013. This represents a
ridiculous amount to the order of 1.09 Euros per person per year for
the 17 countries of CARIFORUM – and, in addition, we know that a
significant proportion of these funds will never actually be disbursed.
This level of funding is far less than the 0.7% of their GNP promised
by the rich countries for years and restated in the form of the
commitments to increase development assistance made at Monterrey in
2002 and the Paris Conference of 2005. It is especially not
commensurate with the huge social, ecological, and historical debt to
our country that Europe has accumulated over the past centuries and
which continues to accumulate through neo-colonial mechanisms based on
unfair and unbalanced trade.

4. Our demands and our recommendations to the European Union (EU):

4.1 The EU should abandon its goal of reciprocal trade liberalization
with respect to the weaker economies of the South;

4.2 In compliance with at least the principles and objectives of the
Cotonou Agreement, the EU must necessarily focus on development
cooperation, rather than on the trade aspect of the EU-ACP Partnership

4.3 As a matter of urgency, it is necessary to examine the
possibilities of alternative trade regimes. These must take into
account the imperatives of the development of ACP countries and their
priority needs;

4.4 The EU should change its strategy of negotiating by working with
the ACP countries to get more "WTO-flexibility" and push for a
comprehensive reform of this institution so that it is more geared to
enhance the development of international trade instead of being under
the thumb of multinationals and powerful governments.

4.5 The EU should respect and help build (rather than undermining) m
existing regional integration mechanisms, which for the most part
remain in a virtual condition. The strengthening of these integration
efforts is the first step towards an upgrade of regional economies so
that they can cope with the unfair competition that currently dominates
the global capitalist market;

4.6 As the EU is the leading economic power in the world (29% of global
GDP) it should devote additional resources to strengthen the productive
capacities of our countries, to strengthen competitiveness and to
diversify our economies. These resources should be made available more
easily and more quickly;

4.7 The EU should release more financial resources and technology for
sustainable development and the eradication of poverty by increasing
development aid, by the immediate and unconditional abolition of debts
claimed from the ACP countries, and by exploring innovative sources of
development funds (including a tax on financial transactions in
progress - several variations of the model of the Tobin Tax are quite
applicable, as shown by numerous studies);

4.8 The EU should reform the Common Agricultural Policy in such a way
that it contributes to a more sustainable family farming in Europe, and
does not interfere with agricultural and trade interests of third

4.9 The EU should establish transparent and participatory mechanisms to
more thoroughly assess the impact of existing and future trade policies
(including measuring the impact of trade policy reforms carried out
under the Structural Adjustment Policies, and putting compensation and
reparation measures in place);

4.10 In the current negotiations, the EU should refrain from putting
any pressure on the ACP states beyond the scope of the Cotonou
Agreement, with regard to issues such as those relating to the
liberalization of investment, competition policies, government
procurement, trade facilitation, data protection and services;

4.11 The EU should refrain from the use of blackmail by de-linking
access to funds from the 10th EDF and the pace of EPA negotiations;

4.12 The EU needs to improve the negotiating process by clearly
defining mechanisms for wide, real and effective consultation,
especially with community-based organizations, social movements, and
civil society in general. The EU countries should be more accountable
to their national and supranational parliaments, including the ACP-EU
Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

5. Our demands and our recommendations to the Haitian authorities.

5.1 The Haitian government should carry out a process of setting up a
national strategy for rehabilitation and development in the context of
a broad and meaningful participation of all sectors of national life.
This should take place as soon as possible. Only on the basis of this
strategy we will be able to define a path of regional integration in
the Caribbean and the coherent elements of a framework relating to our
trade with the rest of the world;

5.2 The government should give serious consideration to the potential
of our economy in relation to the needs of countries in the region. To
take advantage of these opportunities, the intelligent mobilization of
all concerned producers will be required;

5.3 The Haitian government should refuse to sign the EPA and ask for a
moratorium of at least three years in order to develop a transparent,
inclusive, and truly participatory consultative process;

5.4 The Haitian government should seek to take into account our
particular situation (a country plagued by a long systemic crisis) and
invoke the concept of special and differential treatment, both in terms
of our relations with countries in the Caribbean as well as in the
framework of their relations with other regions;

5.5 The government should intensify its relations with blocs of
countries proposing an alternative vision of integration – like the
ALBA framework - based on respect for our culture and our history and
which is built on the basis of cooperative advantage;

5.6 The Haitian government should definitively assess the past 20 years
of domination by neo-liberal policies, and implement different policies
based on a vision of eradicating poverty, and fighting the polarization
between the rich and the excluded. It must show a real will to
rehabilitate the small peasant economy and build a regime of
accumulation prioritizing the needs of the domestic market and coherent
articulation of the productive sectors;

5.7 The Haitian government should take advantage of the Common External
Tariff (CET)applied by CARICOM to selectively protect production chains
with strong potential (tubers, coffee, cocoa, fishing, arts and crafts,
cottage industries, cultural production, grains, livestock, dairy
production and the processing of fruits, télétravail, construction
materials, eco and cultural tourism, etc.);

5.8 The exclusion lists should be discussed with all sectors of the
country, and take into account our potential in the medium term. The
deadline for signing before the end of the year will not permit serious
work on the list of products excluded from the liberalization, and we
believe that we must break this doctrine of progressive liberalization
as the expiration date of 20 years does not, we believe, offer adequate
insurance coverage.;

5.9 The issue of the defense of national production and food
sovereignty must be an essential component in the process of
negotiation of any partnership agreement;

5.10 The government should refuse to liberalize government procurement
which constitutes a lever to protect and recapitalize small and
medium-sized domestic companies;

5.11 The government should protect social services by preserving any
commodification process to ensure accessibility and universality of
these public goods and services;

5.12 The Haitian government should support the reservations expressed
by several leaders of CARICOM countries who reject the inclusion of
standards of "good governance" in the context of the EPAs because this
implies a reduction in state interventions in social issues, the
environment, poverty alleviation, the creation of stable employment,
and so on;

5.13 The Haitian government should fight to retain the levers to
subsidize agricultural production and fragile niches of transformative

6. Our recommendations to our country’s social movements and

6.1 We call on all citizens to support the petition against the EPA in
order to signal our rejection of any mechanism that jeopardizes our
chances of development and the participation of citizens in the
construction of a strong and united nation;

6.2 We call upon all organizations to contribute to the dissemination
of as much information as possible on the issue of the trade
negotiations, and to hold serious discussions on these issues;

6.3 We call on everyone to exert pressure on the Haitian authorities to
refuse to sign such a harmful agreement, and to maintain constant
vigilance of these negotiations. We need the establishment of a genuine
strategy of rehabilitation and national development. The organizations
and agencies which are coalition members have a wealth of documentation
on the EPA negotiations, which is available to everyone;

6.4 We call on the Haitian people, on all organizations and citizens
across the country, to form networks to exert strong pressure in order
to be able to influence the country’s decision-making mechanisms, to
safeguard the achievements won in 1804 and to continue to be at the
forefront of all peoples’ struggles for emancipation in a spirit of
solidarity, equity and social justice;

And the mobilization continues...

Members of ‘Block the EPA’ coalition:

With the support of: OXFAM - ACTION AID - BRODERLIJK DELEN – MCC -

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