EU Adopts ‘Imperial Preference’

Commissioner Pascal Lamy’s announcement on 20 October that lesser developed countries that implement the European agenda of the Kyoto protocol and other international treaties on the environment will be paid off with a lighter tariff burden amounts to the EU’s final repudiation of the results of the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johnannesburg in 2002.

At the World Summit, the collective voice of the poor countries of the world firmly rejected European attempts to mire them in economic stagnation. Recognizing the importance of cheap, abundant energy to reducing poverty, they rebuffed initiatives aimed at foisting the least efficient, most land-intensive, and most expensive “renewable” energy technologies upon them. They insisted on a multilateral, rather than bilateral, approach to eradicating poverty and moved to ensure “that energy policies are

supportive to developing countries’ efforts to eradicate poverty.”

The new announcement marks a return to the EU’s pre-Johannesburg strategy, explicitly rewarding countries for engaging in bilateral agreements with the EU and attempting to ensure that the European agenda wins out over cheaper, more efficient ways of eradicating poverty.

The announcement says that the smallest countries with the most vulnerable economies can gain preferential treatment in the form of duty-free access to EU markets for over 7,200 products, including agricultural goods.

By aiming the new programme at the most vulnerable economies, the EU is driving a wedge between those countries and the more powerful voices of the developing world, such as China, India and Brazil.

Lamy also confirmed that China would lose its preferential access for textile and clothing imports.

Conventions that the countries will be expected to sign up to by the end of 2008 include the Kyoto protocol on global warming (recently judged a “bad investment” of the world’s money by a panel including three Nobel laureate economists), the Cartagena protocol on genetically-modified organisms (which formalizes a precautionary approach to the best available solution to world hunger), agreements enshrining trade union rights and even conventions on drug trafficking.

Lamy hailed the initiative as an example of the EU’s use of “soft power,” an attempt to exert international influence by means of persuasion and incentives rather than by threats and demands.

The EU comes to this move after seeing the success of its approach towards persuading Russia to move towards ratification of the Kyoto protocol, something that senior Russian sources admit was a purely political decision based on the concessions the EU was offering Russia, rather than any belief that the protocol was scientifically or economically justified.

It is possible, however, that the measure will be seen by developing countries as a whole as an attempt to impose European mores on independent countries.

The measure shows similarities to the British Victorian idea of “imperial preference,” whereby those countries that subjugated themselves to British law and custom were granted access to the greatest market of the era.