The TUC General Secretary has written to MEPs calling on them to oppose the Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) when it is considered in the International Trade Committee and European Parlaiment. Trade unions in UK and internationally are opposed to the agreement as it will restrict the policy space of governments to implement development and industrial policies, cause a significant loss of revenue from tariffs and undermine fundamental labour rights as well as social and environmental protections.
10 June 2016
SADC Economic Partnership Agreement
At the International Trade Committee meeting on 15 June we urge you reject the SADC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) as it will restrict the policy space of governments to implement development and industrial policies, cause a significant loss of revenue from tariffs and undermine fundamental labour rights as well as social and environmental protections. The TUC supports the statement of ITUC-Africa, which raises these concerns, as well as others, with EPAs currently under negotiation.
We are concerned that, although phased, the removal of tariffs in the SADC EPA will result in the loss of an important source of government income in partner countries. This will impede their ability to provide public services, support domestic industries and create decent jobs with fair pay.
The removal of tariffs for manufactured imports from the EU to SADC countries will also make it difficult for domestic goods to compete in SADC countries’ markets. SADC countries must be able to continue to protect their domestic industries as they have been historically disadvantaged in relation to those in Europe. The further liberalisation of goods such as agriculture, meanwhile, is likely to also cause significant harm to sectors where exports are already in decline in SADC countries.
We are also concerned the SADC EPA will reduce the policy space of governments to implement important protective regulations. The agreement states it will establish a process whereby measures that are interpreted as ‘technical barriers’ to trade can be overturned if they are seen to constitute ‘unnecessary barriers’. This threatens government’s ability to implement employment, health and safety and other protective measures that may be interpreted as ‘unnecessary’.
Finally, we are concerned by the lack of sustainable development obligations, monitoring or enforcement measures in the SADC EPA. This contravenes the goals of the Lisbon Treaty and Cotonou Agreement to use the EU’s external relations to promote social, labour and environmental rights. The TUC calls for all EPAs to contain binding commitments to core ILO labour standards and a framework such as a joint consultative committee - a version of which exists in the ECOWAS EPA - to monitor adherence to these standards. Trade unions must be empowered in this framework to trigger investigations and penalties where abuses of labour rights occur. The TUC calls for the European Commission to provide funding to ensure trade unions are able to participate fully in the monitoring of sustainable development in EPAs.
The TUC rejects the recent threats by the European Commission to withdraw preferential market access for ACP countries if ‘necessary steps towards ratification’ are not taken before 1 October. It is unacceptable that the EU is demanding the implementation of the EPAs before parliaments in ACP countries have had the opportunity to examine the texts and to vote the agreements, particularly given the concerns trade unions in the region have articulated about the agreement.
I look forward to hearing the steps you plan to take to register these concerns and oppose the SADC EPA in the Committee and Parliament.