Economic Partnership Agreement: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the Economic Partnership Agreement between the CARIFORUM States, of the one part, and the European Community and its Member States, of the other part, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 15 June 2015.

I am pleased that my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, had an opportunity to have a detailed discussion on the two agreements with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade last week. The complexity of these agreements is such that they lend themselves to being discussed in committee. The select committee engaged in a strong and robust debate on them. It has completed its consideration of the agreements, which are now before the House for approval. These two motions seek Dáil approval of the terms of the EU’s economic partnership agreements with 15 Caribbean countries and 16 west African states and their two regional economic organisations.

These two agreements are significant as they are the first full economic partnership agreements to be signed between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific, or ACP, countries. It is important to note the context which led to these agreements. Historically, ACP countries benefited from unilateral trade preferences with the EU. However, such preferences were deemed to violate World Trade Organization rules on the basis that they established unfair discrimination between developing countries. In 2000, the EU and 78 ACP states concluded an agreement known as the Cotonou Agreement, which provided for a new trade and development framework based on economic partnership agreements. This new type of multilateral agreement combined trade and wider development issues in a unified framework and contained reciprocal preferences in trade between the EU and the ACP states. On this basis, the World Trade Organization agreed in 2001 to give a waiver to the EU to continue the unilateral preferences until 31 December 2007 when these agreements were expected to come into effect.

These economic partnership agreements are pioneering agreements in the international trading system. They are the first genuinely comprehensive north-south trade agreements that seek to promote sustainable development, build a regional market among developing countries and help eliminate poverty. The agreements seek to put trade at the service of development. The EU’s trade and development partnership with the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries stretches back more than 30 years. These agreements build on that partnership. The aim is to make it easier for people and businesses from the EU, the Caribbean and west Africa to invest in and trade with each other and thereby help Caribbean and west African countries to grow their economies and create jobs.

The original intention was for the EU to conclude comprehensive economic partnership agreements with the six regional groupings of the ACP states. Following protracted and difficult negotiations, only the Caribbean was in a position to initial a full economic partnership agreement before the December 2007 deadline. Some 21 other ACP countries initialled interim agreements in smaller subgroups or individually. In west Africa, two interim economic partnership agreements were concluded with Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The interim agreements have been acting as building blocks to full economic partnership agreements, negotiations on which have been ongoing in Africa and the Pacific. Last year, a full economic partnership agreement was signed with west Africa and negotiations were concluded on two full economic partnership agreements with the economic partnership agreement states in the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community.

The Caribbean agreement was signed in 2008 and entered into provisional application on 29 December 2008. As of now it has been ratified by 17 EU member states and eight CARIFORUM states. Last year, the ministerial joint council on the Caribbean economic partnership agreement reviewed the first five years of the implementation of that agreement. It concluded that the economic partnership agreement has tremendous potential for contributing to the sustainable development of CARIFORUM states. Ratification by all CARIFORUM and EU states was one of the key issues identified for action. Approval of the agreement today will ensure Ireland plays its part in this process.

The west African agreement was signed by Ireland on 12 December 2014 and in west Africa on 15 December 2014. All EU member states and 13 of the 16 west African states have signed it. Both agreements ensure duty and quota-free access for Caribbean and west African products into the EU. They involve partial, gradual and controlled liberalisation of EU exports to the Caribbean and west Africa. They allow for permanent protection of sensitive Caribbean and west African products, especially agricultural products. The agreements also contain safeguards to deal with the possibility of disturbances to local markets, food security and infant industry. Under the agreements, Caribbean and west African countries benefit from improved rules of origin that support the development of industries that import materials to make goods for onward export to Europe.

A key innovation of these agreements is the recognition that our developing country partners need assistance to build their trade capacity to reap the opportunities the agreements offer. This is why they provide for development support for their implementation. This is already being provided and will continue through the European Development Fund and the development instruments of member states.

In conclusion, I am happy to move these two motions for approval. These agreements present a strategy to assist our Caribbean and west African partners to build larger markets, to foster trade in goods and services and stimulate investment. They reaffirm the EU's commitment to a close trade and development partnership with these two regions.

Tá mé ag déanamh ionadaíochta anseo ar son mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Breandán Mac Gabhann, mar ní féidir leis bheith i láthair. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this issue. Fianna Fáil is supportive of the aims to promote sustainable development, build a regional market among developing countries, eliminate poverty and develop a close trading and development partnership between the Caribbean and west African regions and the EU. We concur with these aims and recognise the potential for development for the benefit of both partners. It is not just the text of the agreements that is critical, however, it is their implementation and having proper mechanisms in place to review their workings is fundamental.

Flexibility is also important in the implementation of the agreements. We need to guarantee that there are safeguards in the agreements to ensure their fair implementation to suit the needs and capabilities of the European Union and Caribbean and west African countries. For example, the EU-west Africa economic partnership agreement will seek to facilitate EU food exports to the West African region, but what impact will this have on the ability of local agricultural interests, both farmers and producers, to engage with their local and regional markets?

Questions such as these are crucial as the eradication of global hunger is one of the cornerstones of Irish foreign policy. It is important that agreements do not fundamentally undermine our goal to eliminate hunger and poverty throughout the world. We have all seen the devastating impact of hunger, malnutrition and poverty so we must ensure that agreements do not hinder rather than help countries and that we do not create conditions that will have long-term negative impacts on these countries and will essentially undermine their progress, both economically and socially. We need assurances against these possible pitfalls.

It is clear to us that a worthwhile agreement should not be about displacement of local produce or industry which would, in the long term, continue to restrict overall growth in the local economy. We must be very cautious in that regard. For example, my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, raised this very issue last week in the committee. He noted that between 2004 and 2014, consumption of poultry meat in sub-Saharan Africa increased by a staggering 99%. However, local production grew by only 57% while imports from the EU grew by 209%. By 2014, imports of poultry meat accounted for 44% of sub-Saharan African consumption compared to less than 30% in 2014. The poultry sector is a very small one from a European Union point of view, although it is significant in some countries and in particular parts of this country, but it is a very important sector for so many impoverished farmers and producers in impoverished regions in the area.

My concern is that if Article 34 of the EPA, which deals with the agrifood sector and the export of food, is applied, there is nothing to prevent EU poultry and dairy products flooding into countries that have signed the EPA in far greater volumes than they are at present. We have to monitor situations arising where there is increased consumption but the share of the market by local producers is in decline and the European Union is displacing local producers, which I am sure is not our objective. That is the type of issue on which we must keep a very close eye and ongoing reviews are necessary of the mechanisms and workings of the agreement.

If these EPAs are to be agreed, I will call on the Government to report back to the Oireachtas on a regular basis so we can monitor the impact they are having on the west African region. To say that local farmers and producers will be protected is not enough. I am calling on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to ensure at EU Council level that Article 34 is being applied cautiously and with flexibility so that local industries in west Africa are not destroyed. I am asking the Minister to report back to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs regularly on this important matter. I cannot emphasise enough the need for flexibility and considerable oversight to ensure the spirit of the agreements is followed, with which all of us agree, in terms of trying to grow trade and improving the economic fortunes of people in less developed areas. It is very important that the mechanisms are put in place to do that.

I am sure the Minister and his colleagues in Government will share those views and I look forward to constantly monitoring these agreements if we are here in the future to ensure they have the desired effect.

The idea of economic partnership agreements, EPAs, is to combine trade and development. According to the EU, the various African, Caribbean and Pacific countries with which it wants to conclude these trade deals will not only benefit from these agreements in an economic way, but will do so in terms of human and social development. We refute these disingenuous claims as they include more than just a reduction in trade tariffs and result, in many cases, in negative consequences for workers, farmers and the poor in both jurisdictions.

Sinn Féin is opposed to many of these agreements as they can be exploitative. They are bilateral investment treaties on free trade, outside the framework of the World Trade Organization, which ensure the EU is in a far more powerful position compared to the countries and blocs mentioned. We strongly support increased trade between Ireland and Africa, and the EU and Africa, but this trade should be fair, sustainable and mutually beneficial. CONCORD, a European NGO confederation for relief and development, has stated that it regrets that the EU, the largest economic zone in the world, is trying to obtain disproportionate commercial concessions from west Africa, one of the poorest regions in the world, with this economic partnership agreement. The EU should not be using its economic power to undermine and stagnate development in west Africa.

CONCORD also believes that with this EPA west Africa will have less policy space to use important tools for the development of certain economic sectors in order to improve the living conditions of its people and, as a result, the EPA is incompatible with the development of west Africa. While trading as a bloc is good for regional integration in west Africa, the level of integration of west Africa is very weak. Rather than trying to set up a free trade zone with west Africa, the EU could have given priority to stronger regional integration within west Africa itself. CONCORD also points out that the EPA still holds a risk for west African agriculture, and west African farmers expressed these fears in their December 2014 open letter to parliamentarians in Europe, calling the EPA an economic pauperisation agreement.

During the debate in the meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Government said that the poultry and dairy industries in west Africa would be protected or removed from liberalisation requirements under the EPA, but this can safely be called "spin". If Article 34 of the EPA is applied, there is nothing to prevent EU poultry and dairy products flooding into countries that have signed the EPA in far greater volumes than they are already. If these EPAs are to be agreed, I will be formally requesting that the Government reports back to the Oireachtas regularly to show that the most damaging aspects, such as Article 34, are not being rigidly applied.

The EU-CARIFORUM EPA was voted on and consented to in the Parliament on 25 March 2009 and is now in force. It is incredible to think that it took so long for it to come before the Oireachtas and that it has been in force for over six years without the approval of the Oireachtas. This is crazy stuff.

These economic partnership agreements also raise some serious concerns because development considerations are absent and trade interests have instead been allowed to prevail. Thus, the European Union takes with one hand what it gives with the other. This demonstrates the manifest incompatibility between the EPAs and development objectives. On those grounds, Sinn Féin will formally oppose the motion.

The idea that this is a win-win, mutually beneficial agreement is an absolute joke. It is clear that the European Union will gain vastly more than African nations from the economic partnership agreements and that it will do so at the expense of living standards of African people. The agreements are nothing more than a dressed-up, modern-day version of the colonialism in which many EU countries were involved in Africa.

In the past, African governments could impose tariffs on goods sold by European Union countries. The EPA allows Europe to sell products in west African countries without having to pay anything, which means African countries cannot compete. Meanwhile, Europe can import all of the great goods Africa has to offer without paying any duty. It can take African raw materials, turn them into other products and sell them back to Africa at a cheaper price. As a famous Ghanaian proverb goes, "It is the fool whose own tomatoes are sold to him." That is the reality of this process.

The economic partnership agreements are based on indiscriminate trade liberalisation that refuses to take into account the special needs of a particular country's economy. The World Trade Organization was supposed to provide for this. The European Union promised the WTO that it would not force poor countries to fully open their markets but produced this mechanism instead. Its approach has been reprehensible because the EPAs remove the limited protection available for local markets and will undoubtedly result in losses for manufacturing in African countries. Trade trends indicate that the growth in the market for manufactured products in Africa has been in other African countries. If west Africa is to move away from primary commodity dependency and become a manufacturing hub, the African market will be its best option. However, west African markets are at risk of being taken over by the European Union as a result of these agreements.

The EPAs infringe on the sovereignty of west African nations and are most definitely not in their economic interests. They will not be of any benefit to them, whereas the super-profits of the companies that are determined to exploit these countries will be boosted.

The Taoiseach agreed to hold a full debate on this matter, as did the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, when they appeared before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. Despite this, Deputies have been given only 20 minutes to discuss economic partnership agreements which will affect millions of lives in the least developed countries. The EPAs also have significant implications for our policy on overseas development aid.

The economic partnership agreements have been presented as a progressive and positive development, yet a letter from west African farmers and a report in a policy paper from the confederation representing non-governmental organisations across Europe highlight that, rather than lifting people out of poverty, the EPAs will plunge them deeper into poverty, will have an impact on local markets and will affect the long-term food security of the populations of the poorest countries.

If the purpose of the development aid programme is to eradicate hunger and reduce poverty, surely the appropriate approach would be to reduce the dependence of African people on Europe and support them in feeding themselves. No country should have to implement a trade agreement if enforcing the obligations provided for in the agreement will undermine its agricultural production. If Article 34 of the EPAs is vigorously implemented, the west African agrifood sector will be devastated.

The knowledge that these agreements will be passed makes it even more vital that we provide for active oversight as well as effective monitoring safeguards and sustainability impact assessments. Some of the African Ministers have criticised the lack of effectiveness of EPA safeguards.

We were informed that the economic partnership agreement with Colombia would ensure protection for farmers and workers' rights. Last week, the arrival of a heavy contingent of troops in a marginalised area of south-west Colombia resulted in the displacement of 80 families, the occupation of schools and community buildings and the death of one peasant farmer, with many more wounded. Three prominent human rights defenders were murdered the previous week. The trade agreement with Columbia did not protect the rights of workers and peasant farmers in that country. How can we ensure the same will not be the case in respect of the economic partnership agreements with African countries?

Our statements that we are committed to fair and ethical trade must translate into action. Ireland gives millions of euro in development aid and I agree with the goal of spending 0.7% of gross national income on development aid. How can we give aid with one hand while undermining with the other hand the ability of African countries to look after themselves and feed their populations? The EPAs do not recognise the realities in vulnerable regions such as west Africa. It has been argued that these agreements could also destroy the tax bases of African countries, leaving them more dependent on foreign aid.

It should be noted that in the previous Dáil, the President, former Deputy Michael D. Higgins, was the most vocal opponent of economic partnership agreements.

On a point of order, Deputies have raised important points to which one would expect a Government response, particularly in respect of the points made regarding Article 34 of the agreements.

While I appreciate the Deputy's point, I am advised that the order has been agreed and cannot be changed at this stage.

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 62; Níl, 20.

  • Breen, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.

Níl

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey; Níl, Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan and Seán Crowe.
Question declared carried.