Unfair trade and the EU

[Tuesday, again]

Because I think it’s worth reading, here’s David Cronin’s article, Europe’s hidden trade war:

Peter Mandelson has a good reason to oppose holding a referendum on the European Union’s new “reform treaty”. But it is not the reason he has stated: a desire to avoid the “poisonous debates over Europe” that Britain has had in the past.

Instead, Mandelson is doubtlessly aware that any truly democratic scrutiny of the treaty risks exposing the damage wrought by the aggressive free market policies he has been championing as Europe’s commissioner for trade.

Buried on page 101 of the treaty is a clause committing the EU to seek “the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade and on foreign direct investment and the lowering of customs and other barriers”.

To discover the kind of “barriers” of concern to Mandelson, one should consult the “market access strategy” that officials working for him issued in April. It underscored that Brussels will oppose any environmental or consumer protection rules in foreign countries that it views as standing in the way of unfettered capitalism. Governments naughty enough to introduce measures perceived as hostile to western business will face proceedings initiated by the EU at the World Trade Organisation, the paper suggested.

A largely unnoticed memo prepared by the European commission to explain the strategy’s ramifications boasted that EU efforts to strip away these prickly obstacles are already paying dividends. Among the victories chalked up by the free trade zealots advising Mandelson in recent years, the memo pointed out, was a successful challenge to a Mexican law on diesel emissions that would have prevented European vehicles being sold in Mexico.

Since that memo appeared, the commission has sunk even lower by pursuing a case against Brazil. This relates to the seemingly unsexy dossier of retreaded tyres (tyres which have been used and then reprocessed) yet it could have far-reaching repercussions.

In June, the WTO ruled that Brazil was “provisionally justified” to curb imports of retreaded tyres from the EU in order to protect human and animal life. While Brazil contends that the accumulation of tyre waste presents huge ecological problems by creating a risk of soil, air and groundwater contamination, Mandelson’s minions have decided to appeal against the WTO’s verdict. These EU officials, incidentally, work for an institution that has been eager to assert its green credentials by lecturing the world about climate change.

Yet the most troubling manifestation of Mandelson’s vision for world trade has come in the hectoring he has engaged in with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. The EU has used every weapon in its arsenal to try to browbeat almost 80 ACP governments into signing free trade deals – or Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), as they are known – by the end of this year. This has included threats to withhold aid.

Once again, these agreements are all about removing barriers – by, for example, making sure that Africa won’t be able to cushion small-scale farmers by taxing imports of heavily-subsidised food from Europe.

During 2005, Mandelson was often photographed sporting the white wristband of the Make Poverty History campaign. Now that he trumpets an EU treaty diametrically opposed to that campaign’s goals, he should chose a fashion accessory that is not so easily stained by hypocrisy.

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