European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson today faces new pressure from British MPs over looming free-trade deals with African countries which many fear will drive millions of people into poverty.
Mr Mandelson will give evidence to the House of Commons international development committee's inquiry into EU trade agreements with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.
An all-party early day motion critical of the proposals, signed by 151 MPs, adds to the heat put on Mr Mandelson by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and 120 groups in ACP countries which have protested against the planned economic partnership agreements.
Others concerned about the moves include Mr K Y Amoako, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa and a member of Tony Blair's Commission for Africa, and Eveline Herfkens, coordinator of the campaign for the UN Millennium Development Goals which aim to halve global poverty by 2015.
International development agency ActionAid warns that Mr Mandelson is bullying African countries into signing free-trade deals which will push millions of people into poverty.
The agency has conducted research which shows that 750 million of the world’s poorest people are at risk under the EU proposals, which will open African markets to cheaper subsidised European products.
Three million people in Kenya depend on the sugar trade for their income and two million Ghanaians rely on the tomato industry for their earnings. Severe cuts in public services, like health and education, could follow as Kenya’s government would lose about £100 million in sugar taxes and Ghana millions of pounds in tomato revenues. African states fear the EU will withdraw aid and deny access to its markets if they reject the plans.
On Friday Mr Mandelson urged non-European members of the G7 group of rich nations to offer the world’s poorest countries the same duty-free access as they get under the EU’s “Everything But Arms” initiative.
“Any initiative which helps African development merits support. But Mr Mandelson should not use his EBA call to divert attention from mounting anxiety over the EPAs threat. It is time he decided whether to favour trade justice or free trade which would ruin livelihoods for millions of people.”
ActionAid trade policy officer, Tom Sharman, said: