European and Latin American networks reiterate their recommendations to the European Union and its Member States, in view of the imminent provisional implementation of the commercial pillar of the Association Agreement with Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua
Brussels, 31st of July, 2013 The civil society organisations Alianza por la Solidaridad, ALOP, APRODEV, CIFCA y GRUPO SUR have closely followed the negotiations of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Central American countries, and have expressed on several occasions our serious concerns over the economic, social and environmental consequences and, in particular, the negative impacts on human rights this Agreement could cause.
Weakening of human rights standards
The deterioration of human rights and the Rule of Law in the region have increased in the last years. This has been evidenced with the progressive increasing of militarisation of public security, reports of human rights violations and persecution of human rights defenders, in particular of journalists, peasants and indigenous people. The high incidence of violence and insecurity, in a context of endemic impunity, affects most of the countries in the region.
The European Union has argued that this Agreement will reinforce action towards the fulfilment of human rights, allowing the suspension of the agreement in case of serious violations. However, the Agreement has less multilateral conventions than the GSP+1 and does not include binding mechanisms to ensure the effective application of human rights or environmental or labour norms by the signatory States. It is noteworthy that the Federal Council of Germany, on its resolution on the Association Agreement of June 7th, 2013, states that the foreseen mechanisms to control the observance and fulfilment of the human rights clause and the labour and environmental standards are insufficient2.
Obstacles for sustainable development and poverty reduction in the region
Trade is important, needed and can serve as a means to promote sustainable development. However, we strongly believe that the negotiated Agreement does not accomplish its objectives to contribute to poverty reduction through sustainable development. Rather, in dismissing the asymmetries in the level of development between the EU and the Central American countries, it risks to produce contrary effects. In this line, the conclusions of a study, commissioned by the European Commission3, show that the Agreement will intensify the pressure on natural resources, in particular on land and water, leading to a decrease in food production, the decline of natural resources, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and increased social conflicts in the countries of the region. Therefore, there is a risk of displacement of the most vulnerable sectors of society: indigenous people, afro-descendants and subsistence peasants.
Low participation of civil society in the discussion and ratification process
The ratification of the Association Agreement in Central America has been carried out with a speed unprecedented in similar processes in the European Union, to the point that, to date, all countries in Central America have ratified the agreement and are adapting their norms for it to provisionally come into force with Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama4, on August 1st. The European and Latin-American networks signing this statement regret that this process has not been conducted in a timeline that would allow an in-depth analysis of the text of the agreement and its implications; and that no mechanisms for a wide and effective participation of civil society in this process have been established, as we have demanded since the beginning of the negotiations.
In view of the above, we strongly reiterate our recommendations to the European Union and its Member States to:
1. Establish urgent measures to prevent and overcome the possible negative impacts, based on the warnings showed in the social and environmental impacts report mentioned above.
2. Ensure that the EU is acting according to the recommendations of the United Nations in relation to the rights to food, labour, sovereignty in the exploitation of natural resources and of access to informed consultations of indigenous communities prior to the establishment of European investments.
3. Establish monitoring mechanisms and bodies that allow a substantiated revision of the human rights clauses.
4. Adopt a binding normative framework that obliges European companies and their subsidiaries to take responsibility in case of violations of human rights and environmental laws in third countries, and does not allow the import of products related to human rights and environmental rights violations.
5. Ensure the establishment of institutional mechanisms for the effective participation of civil society in the framework of the agreement.
The signatory civil society organisations and their members will continue to monitor the implementation of the commercial pillar of the Association Agreement with the Central American region, in particular the negative effects it could have with regard to the rights to food and labour and to human rights, as well as on the environment.
1? The Generalised System of Preferences+ is an incentive arrangement for developing countries, which allows access to the EU market and includes twenty seven core UN and ILO standards on human and labour rights, as well as other International agreements related to environment and governance.
2? “(…) The Federal Council of the Federal Republic of Germany celebrates the incorporation of a human rights and democracy clause through which the respect to these rights and to principle of constitutionality is an essential element to the agreement and its realisation. However, this clause is not provided with enough mechanisms in case of violation of these components in order to ensure the effective observance and accomplishment of the human rights clause. (…) That is why this Council highlights that is crucial to define in detail the rules concerning human rights, labour rights and environmental protection (…).” Unofficial translation of the Resolution of the Federal Council of Germany, 7th June 2013 (Decision 367/13).
3? Ecorys and other “Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment of the Association Agreement to be negotiated between the EU and Central America TRADE08/C1/C14 & C15 - Lot 2 Final Report”, September 2009.
4? The date of entrance into effect of the Association Agreement with Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala will be decided in the following months.