My MEP Robert Sturdy is fuming at the way EU Trade image Commissioner Peter Mandelson has reneged on vital trade agreements with ACP countries.

We have issued the following press release condemning Mandeleson’s proposal for regional agreements to be reached instead:

Conservative MEP Robert Sturdy yesterday condemned Mr Mandelson’s u-turn over the critical trade agreements between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP).

Last month, Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, repeatedly squashed calls for alternative options to the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements which will define Europe’s trade relations with ACP countries for the next 15 years and are due to concluded by the end of 2007. He said that there was no other legal option which meets WTO compatible market access arrangements.

But yesterday, the Commission admitted defeat by saying that negotiations would not after all be completed by the end of the year. In a surprise move, the European Commission negotiators, led by Mr Mandelson, have proposed sub-regional agreements, which will be signed by just some of the countries within the six regions, with others to follow at a later date.

Mr Sturdy said: "This is complete chaos. Mr Mandelson’s comments on new trade agreements are unbelievably farcical.

“The very idea that other countries in ACP regions would join later would mean they would be signing up to a deal they had never negotiated. Does the EU really think this is a good idea? Weren’t EPAs meant to be all about regional integration?

“ACP countries should not have to choose between a trade agreement which may damage their local and regional markets on the one hand, and barriers which cripple their export markets on the other. There are still choices to be made and last minute policy shifts from the Commission do nothing to restore the confidence of the disconcerted ACP."

EPAs were intended to link trade and development policy, incorporate sustainable development and contribute to poverty reduction through facilitating trade and enable countries to become better integrated into the global economy.

Appropriately designed, they represent an opportunity to revitalise EU-ACP trading, promote economic diversification and regional integration. But negotiations have not gone smoothly.

African countries have expressed concern about this outcome. Anti-poverty activists have argued that even with this scaling down of ambition for the negotiations, the accords reached this year could have an adverse effect on jobs and earnings.