Trading success to Europeans is assumed. Business and investment are taken for granted. So certain is the EU of success that they allow an ever-growing raft of regulation to weigh down on business, until the EU’s growth rate struggles to exceed 2%, decade in, decade out. Other parts of the world see growth rates of 5% and more, which means that just over one generation on, Europe’s economy will double in size while much of the rest of the world will grow up to 16 times. But never mind. The EU is apparently happy with that, and the EU’s growth rate is their business after all.
Destroying the prospects of a generation of Europeans is one thing. Most Europeans can manage to eat even if their country’s regulation-throttled growth rate is paltry. The EU, however now wishes to inflict the same growth-crushing limitations on its third world trading partners, who are far less able to cope with it.
By refusing to allow Asean countries to join in a free trade deal unless they comply with a long list of political requirements, the EU is showing that its obsession with regulation, and especially its so-called ‘human rights’ agenda, is so bad that the poverty and hunger of tens of millions, is, it appears, an acceptable price for the EU to extract.
To the EU, human rights encompass everything conceivable but not apparently what most people would imagine to be the most basic human right of all – the right to be able to eat.
By lumping the price of so-called ‘free trade’ in with onerous and expensive regulatory and political demands, rendering the term ‘free trade’ redundant, the EU is destroying the good that genuine free trade would do to help the poor of South East Asia, where unemployment and hunger are present on a vast scale. Millions are waiting to join the world economy, to get jobs and to rise out of poverty. Normally hard work and skill development would be sufficient for poor people to be able to better themselves, but the EU prefers to place further insurmountable barriers in the way, ensuring that those crucial export markets are denied.
Today’s Philippine Business Mirror reports the difficulties the EU is placing on the Philippines, in this regard. As reported –
A senior diplomat said the Philippines may not be able to join in the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations since Brussels requires a bilateral deal that includes political commitments on various issues that relate to human rights.
The official (clearly too frightened to give his or her name) said the proposed bilateral Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA) submitted by the EU covers a ‘whole range of issues’ including corruption, anti-terrorism, human rights and ‘linking them all to trade’.
It’s too ambitious. We will need to feel our way on the proposed bilateral agreement with the EU..we need to assess how far we can go, and what we can take,’ said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The PCA covers commitments to the Asean economies to promoting human rights and international humanitarian laws, ratification of the 1995 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), efforts against terroism, preventing illegal immigration and promoting good governance that includes fighting corruption. Complying with many of these terms would necessitate changes to the Philippine Constitution. Is it really the business of the EU to be dictating to nations states in other parts of the world how their cultures should address these issues, when the EU itself has an appalling record on corruption (See recent account fromHERE), democratic accountability and is surprisingly tolerant of dangerous terrorists living in their midst.
Human rights is a question of perception. If there are violations of human rights, in the eyes of the EU, does that mean that the EU will withdraw trade concessions?’ asked the official.
Another problem for the proposed Asian-EU ‘free’ trade agreement is the human rights situation in Burma/Myanmar. The EU has excluded Burma from the negotiations until the military junta implements the roadmap to democracy that includes the release of pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the inclusion of all parties in the drafting their constitution.
The words ‘hoops’ and ‘jumping through’ come to mind. While a few privileged Europeans dine out in fancy restaurants dreaming up yet more reasons why they will not open their markets to the world’s poor, millions of stomachs that could have been fed will remain empty. As for the part about the EU insisting on democratic standards, it would be cause for much mirth when you consider the EU’s own record of destroying the democracies of its original member nations, were it all not so tragic.
The way to achieve political development in poor countries is to first promote economic development. In the scale of priorities, democratic accountability and European-style human rights come a long way down the list when food is not in ready supply. That is what the EU should hold as its highest priority, not putting impossible obligations onto the table and impossible hoops for undeveloped countries to jump through, but food.
It’s yet another example of the supranational organisations making life impossible for nation states, and the poor people that live within them. At the next meeting of the EU’s top policy-makers, whoever they happen to be and whatever their names, could they please change their ultimate priority away from political regulation. It should be ‘FOOD FIRST’ every time.