Catholic Information Service for Africa, Nairobi
Churches Reject Economic Partnership Agreements
28 May 2007
Catholic and other churches in Kenya are opposed to Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) currently being negotiated between developing countries and the European Union. Below is a joint statement signed by six churches:
Kenya and fifteen other countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) are currently negotiating a reciprocal free trade agreement with the European Union (EU). EPAs are basically reciprocal free trade agreements that upon signing will open our markets to the products and services from the European Union.
The objectives of these Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are poverty reduction and sustainable development through regional integration and liberalised trade between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. These negotiations which begun in 2002 and taking place in the context of the ACP-EU Cotonou Agreements are expected to culminate in the signing of the agreements by December 2007.
We as representatives of Churches in Kenya hereby present our position on EPAs:
While we appreciate the development objectives and the spirit of the Cotonou Partnership Agreements, we are wary that the current negotiations with the European Union seem to have deviated from these noble objectives. Instead, EPAs have turned out to be free trade agreements, which can have a detrimental effect on the Kenyan economy.
While we acknowledge that the EU continues to be an important destination of Kenya’s exports, the market share for Kenyan goods in East Africa and other African countries is growing particularly under the East Africa Community (EAC) and Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) regional groupings. For instance Kenya’s exports to its partners in the EAC rose rapidly from 7.4 percent of total exports in 1990 to 29 percent of exports in 2004 (EPAs through the lens of Kenya, Econews and Traidcraft, 2005). Together with COMESA, this forms an important market share for Kenya. We are concerned therefore that the proposed EPAs will contribute to the loss of our regional market.
In addition we are convinced that the free trade agreements under EPAs will undermine our government’s national development plans. The government has formulated the Strategy for Revitalisation of Agriculture and the Economic Recovery Strategy both of which recognise the need to attain national food security. The strategy for the Revitalisation of Agriculture aims to restore profitability and viability of the agricultural sector as a source of gainful employment and to empower households to have resources for accessing adequate nutritious food. The irony is that Kenya is undertaking this strategy to revitalise agriculture in the face of liberalisation.
Agriculture still remains the dominant sector in the economy of Kenya. The sector employs 77 percent both directly and indirectly of the labour force and contributes 75% to industrial raw materials. The poor performance of the agricultural sector in the past two decades led to an increase in food insecurity and unemployment in the country. With the advent of the Structural adjustment programmes in the 1980’s, the government removed price controls and substantially cut government support in funding development. We are concerned that the food security and value addition initiatives currently being implemented will be under serious threats from the subsidised products of the EU.
Furthermore, we note that currently Kenya’s national budget has been funded 95% locally through revenue collection. If implemented in its current form, EPAs will definitely cut government revenue as a result of the elimination of import taxes on goods and services from the EU.
The question that needs to be asked is: Will Kenya be able to implement and realise the benefits of these plans in the face of increased cheap imports when the economic partnership agreements come into force in December 2007?
We are of the opinion that if EPAs are to contribute to Kenya’s economic development they must be designed specifically to complement the national development strategies and should not be allowed to pressurise the government to adopt new or different approaches that are not in consonance with the national development plans.
We therefore call upon the Minister of Trade and Industry to take into consideration the following options as he represents Kenya in the EPAs review meeting on May 24th and 25th 2007 in Brussels, Belgium.
We ackonowledge that the EPA negotiations are to be concluded by December 31st 2007. However, majority of the citizens and the lawmakers do not have sufficient information and understanding of the implications of the agreements and have also not been provided with the opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes. It is imperative therefore that more time should be allowed for discussion before the conclusion of the negotiations.
The current negotiations have largely included the European Commission and government negotiators leaving out other crucial stakeholders such as the citizens and their members of parliament. For EPAs to be legitimate we appeal for the inclusion of all stakeholders in the negotiations.
Policy space and national sovereignty
If EPAs were to be implemented in their present form they would restrict our government’s ability to pursue its own development strategies. EPA negotiations should therefore be aligned to national democratic processes such as parliamentary ratification.
Kenya as a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and is therefore duty-bound under international law to respect, protect and fulfil the human right to food, education, shelter and adequate standards of living for its citizens. By signing of EPAs without further consultation with the various stakeholders and without comprehensive analysis of the social and environmental impacts, the state will fail in its obligations to respect and protect the rights of its citizens. If the state signs this agreement our government will be bound to abet the violation of the right to adequate and sustainable standard of living of its citizens.
In conclusion, we reiterate that trade should be at the service of people and not for profit. Hence trade policies should enhance people’s livelihoods through the protection of human rights. It is for this reason that we the church representatives affirm the principles of justice, equity and protection of human rights. These principles should guide any trade policy making and agreements.
Statement by Church representatives from:
Catholic Church-Kenya Episcopal Conference and AMECEA
Anglican Church of Kenya
Presbyterian Church of East Africa
Reformed Church of East Africa
World Revival Mission
Pentecostal Assemblies of God