Monday, October 16, 2006

EU Trade Pacts - UK Calls for Attention to Development

According to a report today in the Financial Times, UK ministers have written to the European Commissioners for Trade and Development urging greater consideration of development issues when pursuing trade pacts with developing countries, ahead of today's trade meeting in Luxembourg. This comes when India and the EU agreed last week to work towards a new bilateral trade and investment deal by 2009.

In an open letter to Louis Michel, EU Commissioner for Development, and Peter Mandelson, EU Commissioner for Trade, the two ministers - Ian McCartney, UK Trade Minister, and Gareth Thomas, Development Minister - have said, "We are concerned about the current state of the negotiations and want to see these agreements deliver real benefits to ACP [Africa, Caribbean and Pacific] countries."

In particular, as seen in yesterday's post, free trade agreements are being criticised as merely obliging developing economies to accept foreign competition and intellectual property laws in ways that may be detrimental to domestic policies and to economic development. Similar issues are raised in the UK letter to the Commission, revitalising the "Singapore Issues" that have been marginalised in international trade talks. The so-called "Singapore Issues" have been seemingly insoluble due to disagreements over vital development concerns, particularly at the World Trade Organization (WTO) 5th Ministerial Conference in Cancun, 2003. Development remained on the agenda at the 6th Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong, 2005, but since the recent collapse of the Doha Round, development issues are increasingly vulnerable to being silenced through bilateral agreements.

In a recent speech at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Peter Mandelson said that the EU remains committed to sensitive and "deep" free trade agreements. And in a comment in India's Financial Express, Mandelson reiterates his commitment to the "sensitive issues," saying that the EU-India agreement "would have to be deep and substantive ... We also need to improve the enforcement of rules on the protection of intellectual property rights."

But an article in today's Guardian newspaper, suggests that such agreements may not necessarily be sensitive to development. In the article, Angela Balakrishnan refers to the Commission letter leaked last May, which revealed pressure from Peter Mandelson on the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, "to take a more moderate line in Britain's pro-poor country approach to trade liberalisation." As Balakrishnan notes, the Commission accused the UK government of being influenced by celebrities and non-governmental organisations (NGO) in its policies.

Or perhaps it's just a campaign of distraction.

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