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Legislators to Hold Seminar On EPAs

The New Times, Kigali

Legislators to Hold Seminar On EPAs

2 June 2008

By James Karuhanga, Kigali

Parliament will Wednesday hold a joint consultative seminar on the role of Parliament and the private sector in the ongoing negotiations expected to pave way for signing the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).

The day long seminar initiated by the Senate will largely seek to boost both the lawmakers and private sector fraternity’s knowledge about the EPA negotiations between African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the EU.

It will also look at the content of the already signed interim agreement between the EU and EAC countries and about their role in the implementation of the agreements.

"As legislators, we are following it up since if finally effected, it is going to affect Rwandans," said Ayinkamiye Spéciose, the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Finance said.

"We will also dwell on what benefits our country and the private sector in particular stand to draw from the EPAs."

Ayinkamiye told The New Times Monday that it was very important to first fully understand what the EPAs imply before Rwanda fully commits itself. She explained that it was not too late for necessary amendments to be made before turning the interim EPAs with the EU into a legally binding arrangement.

The 25 year commercial preferences the EU assigned to ACP countries early this year will also be reconsidered. Furthermore, review of the opportunities being offered by the interim agreement will be conducted and lawmakers will be sensitized on their role in implementing the EPAs.

Apart from Deputies, Senators, PSF officials and business people, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Investment Promotion, Cooperatives and Tourism (MINICOM) will also be represented.

Other big-shot stake holders expected include: the European Commission for Trade and, the Association of Western Parliamentarians for Africa (AWEPA).

Anti-EPA voices

This development comes amidst continuing campaigns from within and outside the region, against the deals initialed by some 35 ACP countries last year.

Some legislators in the region have voiced concerns over "unfair treatment" and believe the EU is coercing regional countries into signing the agreement.

Last month, Oxfam International also reiterated its desire to see ACP countries first analyzing EPA impacts before their final and legal commitment.

In its report, "Partnership or Power Play? How Europe should bring development into its trade deals with African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries," the charity organization describes EPAs as a ’failed document.’

"Through analysis of the goods, services, investment, and intellectual property chapters of texts concluded last year, this paper draws attention to aspects of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) that put future economic development at risk," states OXFAM.

"It subjects them to the kind of development test that should have guided negotiations from the beginning, and puts forward positive policy prescriptions."

OXFAM believes the EPAs do not support economic diversification and hence restricts ACP countries from developing new industries and creating jobs.

It underscores little commitment on infrastructure upgrading and no commitment to technology transfer by the EU among other reasons.

Oxfam International calls for thorough and comprehensive independent evaluations and impact assessments of what has been initialed, before any deal is signed and committed into law.

It also urges for vigorous engagement by parliaments across Europe and the ACP and full scrutiny of the deals among other things.