Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!
More on politics & human rights |
economy & development |
peace & security |
Print this page
Southern Africa: Slowing Fast-Track Trade
May 9, 2006 (060509)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Civil society groups in both South Africa and the Untied Statets
are applauding the halt in progress in trade talks between the
United States and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The
groups say that U.S. insistence on a "one-size fits all approach"
is inappropriate for SACU, which includes five southern African
countries at different stages of development. Moreover, they say,
the U.S. approach contains many provisions that would damage
health, workers' rights, and the prospects of small farmers.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a joint press release from the
U.S-SACU FTA Working Group in the United States and the Trade
Strategy Group in South Africa, each a coalition of multiple civil
society organizations. It also contains excerpts from an
earlier statement with additional background from the U.S-SACU FTA
For additional background on U.S. bilateral free trade agreements,
For a commentary of the U.S.-SACU FTA from Kathy McNeely of Church World
Service, see http://allafrica.com/stories/200605040490.html
For an African civil society statement calling for stopping the
parallel Economic Partnership Agreements being advanced by the
European Union, see
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on trade issues,
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Departing from USTR, Portman Leaves Dead US-Southern Africa
Activists, Unions, and Churches Applaud Rejection of "One Size Fits
All" Model; Say Rejected Deal Could Have Undermined Fight Against
AIDS & Poverty
April 18, 2006
U.S.-SACU Free Trade Association Working Group
Trade Strategy Group South Africa
For more information:
Jessica Walker Beaumont 1 (917) 609-5788 (U.S.)
Brendan Vickers 27 (82) 466-1701 (South Africa)
Pretoria, South Africa/Washington, DC - Today, as US Trade Rep.
Robert Portman stepped down to run the Office of Management and
Budget, civil society organizations in the US and South Africa
are applauding the rejection of the USTR's efforts to revive the
U.S.-Southern Africa Customs Union Free Trade Agreement
(U.S.-SACU FTA) negotiations. Citing elements of the potential
deal that could have limited access to affordable generic AIDS
drugs and other life-extending medicines and impeded development
in the region, activists, unions, and churches today expressed
satisfaction that a "comprehensive" FTA is looking increasingly
unlikely. SACU countries sent a strong message, say activists,
that they will not be held hostage to the U.S. "fast track"
timelines and will not sacrifice their ability to address poverty.
Instead, negotiators in Pretoria, where Mr. Portman made his
departure announcement, are talking of pursing a watered down
"joint work program"-a shift civil society groups hope signals an
end to the push for inappropriate, pro-corporate trade rules in
The negotiations for what would be the first U.S. bilateral trade
deal in Sub-Saharan Africa have been "on again, off again" for
the last three years. This is largely because the U.S. Trade
Representative's Office refuses to commit to structuring the FTA in
a way that takes the grinding poverty, dependence on agriculture
for livelihoods, and lack of access to essential services and
medicines in the region into account.
Today, it was reaffirmed that the SACU countries have rejected a
"comprehensive" FTA that would have included all economic sectors,
and worked from the same template USTR has used for trade
agreements in Latin America, Southeast Asia, North Africa and the
Middle East. Instead, discussions appear to heading down a path
of a "joint work program" that could look much like the US-Swiss
Cooperation Forum that was developed when free trade talks
collapsed between the countries of agriculture subsidies.
"Scholars have studied other U.S. free trade agreements and have
found that there is a 'one-size-fits-all' or as the negotiations
would say an FTA framework," said Carol Thompson, Research Chair
of the Association of Concerned African Scholars from Northern
Arizona University. "By refusing to take issues like patents on
life-saving medicines, provision of essential services, and food
crops of special importance off the 'trade liberalization' table,
the U.S. is putting Southern African nations in the position of
choosing between trade and the very lives of their people," she
Among the top complaints of civil society and some legislators is
that the negotiations are being held under an anti-democratic
veil of secrecy. While it is well known from the statements of
trade negotiators that the U.S. is pursuing an equivalently
problematic approach throughout the world, keeping proposals secret
keeps the populations and many elected official in the both the
U.S. and Southern Africa in the dark about essential issues.
Coalitions in both the U.S. and South Africa today applauded the
halt to the talks. These coalitions encompass a collection of
policy groups, trade unions, faith-based networks, student
groups, academics, people living with HIV/AIDS, women's groups,
and environmental organizations.
"Given the unique developmental profile of SACU - including a least
developed country, Lesotho - we confront a plethora of
socio-economic challenges, aggravated by the unfair and
scandalous trade practices of our development partners in the
North", says Brendan Vickers, Senior Researcher at the Institute
for global Dialogue in South Africa. "It Is critical that our
government maintains their right to policy space and the right to
protect programs like the Black Economic Empowerment initiative
used to undo historical injustices of the colonial and Apartheid
era," concluded Vickers.
Access to medicines and the effects of intellectual property rights
on people living with HIV/AIDS is a hot button issue for the
region. The SACU countries are home to the highest HIV
prevalence rates in the world, with countries like Lesotho
reporting well over a third of adults infected, but where only
about 14% of those in need of HIV/AIDS medication have access.
"As far as South Africa is concerned, it is under a constitutional
obligation not to trade away the health of its population," says
Jonathon Burger of the AIDS Law Project based in South Africa.
"We are committed to take whatever legal means at our disposal to
block any agreement that undermines our right to access to
medicines and cannot count out a constitutional challenge of the
agreement as a whole," says Burger.
According to experts, the US-promoted rules would have violated a
WTO agreement on public health reached at the 2001 Doha WTO
Ministerial, permitting countries to prioritize access to
medicines while implementing their intellectual property regimes.
In the case of SACU, the rules would also violate U.S. Executive
Order 13155, which states: "[the U.S.] shall not seek revision or
revocation of any intellectual property law or policy of
a...sub-Saharan African country...that regulates HIV/AIDS
pharmaceuticals or medical technologies if the law or policy of
the country...promotes access to HIV/AIDS pharmaceuticals or
medical technologies for affected populations in that country."
"As the largest trade union federation in South Africa with two
million members we are concerned about a Free Trade Agreement
modeled after other U.S. agreements and its potential negative
impact on levels of employment, poverty and government's ability
to meet basic needs," said Tanya Van Meelis of the Congress of
South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU). "In a country that faces 26
percent official unemployment and 40 percent when using the
broader definition that includes those too discouraged to seek
work," continued Van Meelis, "if an FTA cannot contribute to these
goals, we would not support it."
"As a Christian I follow the messages of Jesus - a man who spent
his time with the rural poor, who challenged systems of power and
disparity between the rich and powerful and the resource poor and
powerlessness" said Kathy McNeeley, Policy Analyst from Church
World Service, a ministry of 35 Protestant, Orthodox, and
Anglican denominations in the U.S. "Many Christians in the U.S.
participated in fighting against Apartheid and they know that
these kinds of struggles are for the long
Equitable Trade and Southern Africa: A Cookie Cutter Approach Will
Cost Lives and Livelihoods
Statement released 3/27/2006
U.S.-SACU FTA Working Group
[Excerpts only. For full text and list of signatory groups see
The United States-Southern Africa Customs Union free trade
agreement (US-SACU FTA) negotiations began in June 2003 to create
the first US free trade area with Africa. The Southern Africa
Customs Union, which originated in 1889, is one of the oldest
formal trading blocks and includes Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia,
South Africa, and Swaziland. As organizations that have worked for
many decades in Southern Africa and in the U.S. on issues that
concern this region, we share goals of a more just, sustainable and
prosperous human society in the region. In this spirit, we raise
serious concerns related to the negotiations of the U.S.-SACU FTA
and offer recommendations that are essential to a more just trade
relationship between the United States and the nations of Southern
Although the negotiations continue to start and stall and the text
remains a total secret, based on the experience and precedent of
other US FTA's, it is not difficult to anticipate how the U.S.-SACU
FTA will unfold. Looking at the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), US-Chile FTA, and Central American Free Trade
Agreement (CAFTA) models helps us anticipate what will be included.
After twelve years, the accumulated evidence surrounding NAFTA
demonstrates that any agreement crafted along the lines of that
accord would have potentially adverse environmental, economic and
human consequences for many people in the United States and
Democratic Participation and Transparency
US-SACU governments should take active steps to facilitate direct
and meaningful engagement from civil society in negotiating the
proposed US-SACU FTA. ... US-SACU negotiations have not made
available draft texts, proposals, timelines or agendas for the
established channels of civil society to have an informed debate.
It is essential that U.S.-SACU FTA negotiations extend, beyond the
business sector, the appropriate mechanisms for democratic
With corporations' increased ability to relocate in search of lower
labor costs, a "race to the bottom" has ensued. This trend is
disproportionately felt by low-skilled labor that are forced to
compete for jobs. Communities are also forced to compete for
investment by requiring less of employers. The global race to the
bottom has been a significant factor in the stagnation of job
quality in the U.S. and the spread of sweatshop labor in Southern
Africa. With no existing social provisions in the SACU mandate and
the lack of resources for enforcement of member country labor laws,
the U.S.-SACU FTA is likely to perpetuate rather than help this
Lesotho saw an increase in jobs under the Africa Growth and
Opportunity Act, but many of these jobs had people working under
sweatshop conditions, including coercion. With the demise of the
global Multi Fiber Agreement and its quota system, investment
became more volatile with factories closing literally overnight and
managers leaving the country without fulfilling their obligations
to pay employees. Those that did not leave use the threat of doing
so as a way to gain leverage over workers, thereby preventing them
from organizing or joining unions.
The U.S.-SACU FTA should provide the space for participating
countries to create policies that retain and create jobs that
respect ILO labor standards.
Small Farmers in the United States and Southern Africa
In Southern Africa, where about 70 percent of the population lives
in rural areas and suffers the greatest poverty levels, the impact
of a trade agreement which does not address the needs of all
farmers, especially poor ones, will lead to increased inequalities.
Any trade agreement that covers agriculture must recognize national
food sovereignty by guaranteeing governmental authority to pursue
tariffs and subsidies that safeguard food security, increase food
crop diversification and protect the environment. The United
States government must prevent private and public dumping of U.S.
grains in the region that adversely affects small scale farmers.
Such farmers are unable to compete against imported agricultural
goods sold below their own production costs or indeed, below the
cost of agribusiness production in the U.S.
Current U.S. domestic farm policy, despite subsidies of billions of
taxpayer dollars, is destructive of small and medium producers as
well as the environment, and therefore, if exported via trade
agreements, this agro-system could become harmful to other regions.
Free trade agreements are inappropriate instruments to provide
sustainable rural development and entitlement to food, either in
the U.S. or in Southern Africa.
The U.S.-SACU FTA must contribute to rural development strategies,
in the U.S. and Southern Africa, that promote subsistence and
small-scale farms, dedicated to enhance food sovereignty and
environmental sustainability. Countries should be able to enact
legislation that protects products with special economic, social or
cultural importance, such as corn and beans, from trade
Access to Medicines
The SACU countries have the highest rates of HIV in the world and
AIDS, as well as other treatable diseases, threaten to devastate
the societies and economies of the region. Any trade treaty must
not diminish Southern African countries' rights to secure the
production, import, export and provision of affordable medicines to
respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other public health problems.
The African Union has long opposed patents on life and therefore,
no trade agreement should require private intellectual property
rights over bio-resources (seeds, plants, animals). In Southern
Africa, the Africa Model Legislation provides legal alternatives
for protecting breeders' rights, while fully honoring farmers'
rights over seeds .Private intellectual property rights over
bio-resources rewards transnational corporations, not small scale
farmers growing food crops from saved seeds.
Southern African governments must be allowed to enact restrictions
on genetically-modified organisms that they deem necessary to
sustain regional crop varieties. Any US-Southern African trade
agreement must recognize governments' authority to determine and
implement publicly legislated safety standards for imported food
products ... ...
Investment, Capital Flows and Government Procurement
Any trade agreement should preserve government authority to
regulate foreign investment in order to achieve national
sustainable development policies. Governments should be able to
protect public interest laws from suits and establish performance
requirements in order to support an emerging productive sector or
meet community development plans. This includes using government
contracts to promote gender equality, social justice and respect
for human rights. Equally, governments should be able to impose
capital controls to protect their economies and citizens from
destructive flows of speculative investment.
Despite the need to offset the economic legacy of colonialism,
conflict and apartheid, participating countries could lose the
right to enforce their affirmative action policies. This includes
programs like South Africa's Black Economic Empowerment initiative.
The U.S.-SACU FTA should preserve government authority to regulate
foreign investment, avoid prohibiting performance requirements, and
have no investor-state clause.
Essential services are services that help meet peoples' human
rights to food, education, health and basic utilities like water
and electricity. Fundamentally, essential services are not tradable
commodities and access to basic necessities must not be subject to
the negotiated rules of free trade. As such, they should not be
included in FTA negotiations.
At a minimum, essential services must be exempt from the "national
treatment" standards, which mandate foreign service providers be
treated at least as well as domestic providers. ...
The elements and standards in this statement are essential to a
trade agreement that could foster a more just, sustainable and
prosperous human society, and U.S.-SACU FTA negotiations must be
evaluated on the basis of their inclusion. To summarize, these
- Negotiations should not move further without direct
involvement from the affected communities and civil society groups
in both the United States and SACU countries. We call for access
to draft texts as they develop so that an informed public
discussion can shape the outcome of negotiations.
- The U.S.-SACU FTA should provide the space for participating
countries to create policies that retain and create jobs that
respect International Labor Organization labor standards.
- The U.S.-SACU FTA must contribute to rural development
strategies, in the U.S. and Southern Africa, that promote
subsistence and small-scale farms, dedicated to enhance food
sovereignty and environmental sustainability. Countries should be
able to enact legislation that protects products with special
economic, social or cultural importance,such as corn and beans,
from trade liberalization.
- Given the concerns around intellectual property and access to
necessary medicines especially in this vulnerable region of the
world, the U.S. should take Intellectual Property Rights out of the
- In the U.S.-SACU FTA, small agricultural producers' rights should
take precedence over individual property rights where agricultural
genetic resources are concerned. Additionally, the U.S.-SACU FTA
should not interfere with a country's ability to live up to the
commitment it made in ratifying the Cartagena protocol and its
parent Convention on Biological Diversity.
- The U.S.-SACU FTA should preserve government authority to
regulate foreign investment, avoid prohibiting performance
requirements, and have no investor-state clause.
- Fundamentally, the rights of governments to decide which, where,
when or whether to open services to foreign providers must be
upheld. All services essential to the people and development needs
should be excluded form the U.S.-SACU FTA.
This Statement is endorsed by the following U.S.-SACU FTA Working
ActionAid International USA
Action LA Coalition
ACTUP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), New York
Africa Faith and Justice Network
Agricultural Missions Inc
American Friends Service Committee
American Medical Students Association
Association of Concerned African Scholars
Center of Concern
Church World Service
Foundation for Integrative AIDS Research (FIAR)
Friends of the Earth - U.S.
HealthGAP (Global Access Project)
International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union
Lutheran World Relief
Peace No War Network
PLANT (Partnership for the Land and Agricultural Needs of
Priority Africa Network
Student Global AIDS Campaign
Student Trade Justice Campaign
Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ
United Students Against Sweatshops
United Students for Fair Trade
Washington Office on Africa
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication
providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with
a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus
Bulletin is edited by William Minter.
AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at email@example.com. Please
write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin,
or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about
reposted material, please contact directly the original source
mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see