Last Friday, the Protocol for Ecuador's Accession to the free trade agreement between the European Union and Colombia and Peru was signed in Brussels. It is an agreement which, according to a press release from the European Commission's Trade Commission, entails the bilateral, albeit asymmetrical, opening of the markets by both parties, including the elimination of tariffs for all industrial and fishery products, thus boosting the marketing of agricultural products, improving access to services and public procurement, and reducing technical barriers to trade.
The Association of Canary Banana Producers' Organizations (ASPROCAN) stated that this decision is part of a process of tariff suppression started in 2010 which will cause huge damage to growers in the Canaries, who represent about 55% of Europe's banana sector, given the unfair competition of banana products from third countries, which are far from meeting the requirements demanded by the European Union to its own producers.
These trade liberalization processes are also in breach of the agreement reached with the Commission itself, which in 2007 promised the European banana sector to maintain the tariff barriers in combination with aid to the sector based on these tariffs, which have subsequently been gradually removed since 2010.
The main problem is the non-compliance with the standards of environmental protection, food safety and social and labour protection for Europe, which are required for European productions, but are not required or controlled in the case of third countries.
"If the justification for these agreements is the social development of these countries, we don't understand why some minimum social, environmental and food quality standards are required for products imported from third countries, as is required from European growers, when we are dealing also with products for food consumption in the countries of the Union. This breach of standards, which results in lower production costs in third countries, is a big issue considering we are dealing with food products."
Following its entry into force, pending approval by the European Parliament before it can be applied on a provisional basis, the European Commission itself has acknowledged that Ecuadorian exporters will save up to € 248 million in tariffs each year. Exporters in the European Union will save approximately 106 million Euro. The European Union will liberalise almost 95% of tariff lines at the time of its entry into force, while Ecuador will liberalise around 60%.
Bananas will be one of the main beneficiaries of this agreement, as Ecuador is the world's largest banana exporter, producing more than 5 million tonnes per year, which means an indiscriminate export volume capacity, to the detriment of the protection of the European production. The agreement will be greatly beneficial for large international multinationals marketing the production from countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica and other Central American countries, as they will be able to considerably increase their exports to Europe.
According to the European Commission, there will be a stabilisation mechanism, as in the case of Colombia, Peru and Central America, in order to be able to examine and assess the suspension of preferences if the established annual threshold is reached. The agreement also features a commitment to effectively implement the international conventions on labour and environmental protection rights, which will be monitored.
ASPROCAN has noted that such stabilisation and control mechanisms have already proved to be inefficient to monitor compliance with the volume of imports and with the standards established by the European Union, and that they ignore how European institutions will actually monitor the labour and environmental conditions. These processes are justified on the grounds of their alleged impact on the social and economic development of these countries, but the real benefits, for the most part, are for the multinational intermediaries that market the production, instead of boosting a real development in the producing countries.
Canary banana producers believe that the European Union will have to accept its responsibility for the consequences of these decisions. In their view, the production standards for European consumption should not be ignored and, among other measures, it should be necessary to establish effective control mechanisms to protect the subsistence of European bananas and the social values of the European Union itself. In this sense, it has been requested to conduct a thorough assessment of each market, especially in Spain, France and Portugal (the traditional producers), in order to determine the real situation in each zone and find out how the elimination of tariffs and the increase of banana imports from third countries will affect each country.
The European banana sector generates more than 30,000 jobs in the outermost regions; areas which have been particularly affected by the crisis and the lack of alternative employment. These produce a fruit with added value, strongly appreciated by European consumers in their respective countries, but which is unprotected against these type of agreements.
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