Opening trade could spark social and environmental catastrophe

Plans to liberalise trade between the EU and its North African neighbours could have disastrous results for the people and environment of south Mediterranean states, according to a huge alliance of NGOs.

Trade Ministers from the EuroMed region will meet in Marrakech on Friday to discuss liberalisation of trade between the EU states and their North African and Middle Eastern neighbours.

While the European Commission claims that hammering out such an agreement could relieve tensions in the region, bringing wealth and stability, an alliance of six major NGO networks claims the deal could wreak social and environmental havoc.

The Euro Mediterranean trade ministers will discuss market access for agricultural products and services and liberalisation of these sensitive sectors.

The NGOs reminded them that a high percentage of the south Mediterranean’s poorest people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for part or all of their income.

Farmers in Southern Europe are also likely to be affected by liberalisation as the crops they produce are similar to those grown south of the Mediterranean and they would likely see a fall in prices.

The campaign groups, including Friends of the Earth, European Environmental Bureau and the WWF have called for a moratorium on the EuroMed negotiations saying in their current form they will bring little economic benefit and likely cause major upheaval and damage.

“There are potential environmental impacts of setting up the Mediterranean Trade Area and trade liberalisation,” FoE’s MedNet coordinator Eugene Clancy told edie.

“For example in agriculture trade liberalisation might cause the tendency to move away from small hold farming to larger scale farming requiring much more irrigation in an area where water is already a scarce resource.

“Desertification is a major problem in the region – already in the EU Mediterranean countries such as Portugal, Spain and part of Italy you can see it happening and the problem is worse to the south.

“Moving towards mono-cropping and large-scale tilling of the land would also have an impact on soil quality as well of course.”

“If you take into account the sustainability impact assessment that’s been carried out by Manchester University for the European Commission their report indicates that the economic benefits to the region are very, very small while at the same time the social impacts can be described as ‘adverse’.

“This is what we see as a commission-driven agenda for trade liberalisation that they are claiming will bring peace, prosperity and stability to the region but we actually think it will do the opposite.

“For most farmers, local markets are far more important than international ones and therefore it is essential for them to be able to sell their products locally.

“However, Mediterranean agricultural trade liberalization will open these local markets to cheap imported products. This will have disastrous effects on family farmers and may fuel a large-scale rural exodus to urban slums.”

“It will lead to unemployment as well as migration away from rural areas towards the cities and Europe which will cause more social problems.

“A lot more money will be required to improve things in the region than is currently being put forward.

“We need a lot stronger package with long term partnership arrangements and also unilateral efforts between countries with a shared history, for example France and Morocco or Germany and Egypt.”

By Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie