Richard North, 17/01/2015  

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It was in June last year that I wrote in detail about Kenya and its treatment by the EU, pointing out the predatory nature of its trade deals in Africa. This is not an issue that has had wide coverage in the British media, and nor has the eurosceptic community made much capital out of what has been a classic own goal by EU policy-makers.

Ironically, it takes a Green MEP and the Guardian to tell the story, leaving the eurosceptics missing a trick. The MEP is a German member of the Green Party, Ska Keller, who says, "Developing countries have a gun pointed at their chest – either they sign or their market access to the EU is restricted", appalled at the way the EU brokered a trade agreement with east Africa late last year.

In this case, she says, the gun was pointed at Kenya – more specifically, its cut flowers industry. The flower business is a lucrative one, worth more than €10bn (£7.7bn) worldwide every year, and Kenya is one of the world's largest exporters of cut stems.

So it was a crushing blow when Europe imposed tariffs on Kenya's cut flowers in October last year, potentially making their blooms significantly more expensive than those grown on European soil.

Rather than risk losing trade to other suppliers, Kenyan flower companies absorbed the duties. In the three months they were in place, the Kenya Flower Council estimates that its exporters racked up costs of about €3 million.  

Kenya, we are told, was being punished for failing to sign a new trade agreement. As the cut flower industry started to feel the pain, Nairobi snapped and signed on the dotted line. The EU removed the duties on Christmas Day, allowing Kenya's flower exporters to have a clean run up to Valentine's Day.

While the flower industry is breathing a sigh of relief, many observers fear that the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) signed by the east African countries will be damaging in the long term. The EPA forces African countries to open 80 percent of their markets to European imports. In exchange, African states receive customs-free access to the European market.

The deal, however, is skewed by other arrangements already in place. Liz May, head of policy at Traidcraft, explains: "There's really nothing in it for east Africa. She says most east African countries already have duty-free and quota-free access to the EU under the Everything But Arms agreement, so they have nothing to gain. It's putting Kenya in a situation of forcing its partners to sign up to something they were not in favour of".

Worried that their domestic markets would be flooded with European goods, many African countries resisted the EPA. May says: "EU imports could compete with domestic industries [such as] dairy, agriculture; those products from Europe could be subsidised in different ways at the European end".

There are major concerns that this agreement would, in fact, stand in the way of development. Andrew Mold, the UN's economic analyst for east Africa, has said: "African countries cannot compete with an economy like Germany's. As a result, free trade and EU imports endanger existing industries, and future industries do not even materialise because they are exposed to competition from the EU".

This is not the only situation when Europe appears to be undoing development work with a trade deal, says May. "There are lots of examples of incoherence between the European Commission's development policy and its trade policies".

May cites the example of the Namibian beef industry. "During the course of the negotiations [for an EPA], the EU have given in aid all kinds of support to the Namibian beef sector to enable it to develop and thrive". When Namibia refused to sign, the EU threatened to end its duty-free access to Europe, effectively closing those markets to the country's beef exports.

There are, of course, supporters of the EU stance, but as we explained in our piece, unrestricted free trade for developing economies such as Kenya is simply not appropriate. Emerging industries need protection before they are fit to bear the brunt of competition from developed and highly efficient European industries.

But there is another issue here, which we identified here - Kenya is host to over 530,000 refugees. And, if the country can't afford to feed and house these people and, eventually, give them jobs, they could end up on our doorstep as migrants.

Fro the remedy, we can look to Elizabeth Collett, director of the Brussels-based Migration Policy Institute Europe. "Migration", she says, "is a multidimensional policy area. It touches on everything from foreign policy, through to maritime policy, social affairs and employment." She then adds: "It is by its very nature, a crosscutting area, and to deal with migration effectively you have to take a comprehensive approach".

And it is that "comprehensive approach" that UN experts also advise in dealing with asylum seekers and the plague of people smuggling. Yet it is precisely that which the EU seems determined to ignore.

When it comes to trade, the bully boys have only one objective and they haven't yet got round to the idea of joined up government. And if we had a eurosceptic movement worthy of its name, it would be shouting this abroad, instead of leaving it to a Green MEP.

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