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Economic treaty but with social implications

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

Consultant with the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ), Leela Ramdeen is “thrilled” that T&T has not signed the new Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) and European Union partnership Agreement which contained controversial provisions.

The inclusion of clauses with consequences for countries in the areas of domestic and social affairs through introducing issues such as Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, LGBTQIA rights have sparked outrage.

Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Namibia have chosen not to participate in signing the ‘Samoa Agreement’ which took place at the 46th session of the ACP-EU Council of Ministers Wednesday, November 15 in Apia Samoa.

Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs Dr Amery Browne informed The Catholic News that T&T would not be signing.

Ramdeen said, “We really cannot just give away our sovereignty as a nation and I agree with Family Watch International, that the goal should be that countries should not sign the Agreement until all EU and all African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries feel equally respected in this agreement, thereby ensuring this agreement will not violate national sovereignty, health and education issues including sexual and reproductive health and rights and Comprehensive Sexuality Education.”

Standing firm on the country’s values

She said T&T as an independent nation had to stand firm with its morals and values and not allow others to “strip away our sovereignty”.

The agreement takes over from the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, a 20-year framework through which OACPS countries received grant funding from the European Union since 2000. Negotiations for a new agreement began September 2018, but was set back with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The negotiations were difficult, but the text of the new agreement was completed December 2020. It is wide-ranging, containing among other areas, human rights, democracy and governance, human and social development, sustainable economic growth and development, climate change and migration.

The US Christian lobbying organisation Family Watch International (FWI) put out an “urgent alert” last Tuesday warning that in less than 24 hours, 79 nations planned to sign: “Abortion/CSE/Transgender/Sexual Rights Treaty with the European Union!”

In an interview on Tuesday prior to the signing, Ramdeen said she had become aware of the news through the FWI. “The idea is that it will be lucrative if we sign it because it is an economic treaty with economic benefits with funding from the European Union.”

She highlighted that an economic treaty has been converted to a human rights treaty which will be binding for countries to implement. As FWI said: “They slipped in euphemistic terms to commit the treaty parties to support a global order and global governance with the UN [United Nations] at its core, mainstream gender equality, for example transgender equality, in all laws and policies without defining gender as male and female”.

Countries will have to cooperate with the UN human rights mechanism which she said encompassed abortion, sexual and transgender rights, and Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and sexual rights for children.

She referred to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)/UNAIDS ‘International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education’ which mentions masturbation, sexual orientation, and children having a right to sexual pleasure.

Ramdeen noted the inclusion of ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights’ (SRHR) [article 36 (2)] was a contested term that has been repeatedly rejected by countries including T&T.

She said after the treaty text was agreed April 2021, the EU subsequently developed a definition for SRHR that includes abortion, gender identity and sexual orientation rights.


A threat to sovereignty

She commented that the position taken by the EU in line with the UN will, as FWI states, create a “super block that will have a monopoly.”

According to the Council of the European Union website, “The 27 EU member states and the 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries together represent around 2 billion people and more than half of the seats at the United Nations.”

There are 193 member states at the UN General Assembly.

Ramdeen said treaty provisions will supersede national laws and agreements with other countries, and by signing, we will be doing as FWI states and “giving up our national sovereignty to a council of ministers, co-chaired by the European Union that will have the power to make binding decisions to all those who sign this treaty.”

The push is relentless

Ramdeen said for a long time the Catholic Church has been at the forefront alerting the State about opposition to the introduction of CSE in local schools. The 1961 Concordat prevents the introduction of any material in schools run by religious denominations which is contrary to their beliefs.

It states, “In denominational schools, no books or apparatus, to which the denominational authority formally objects, will be introduced or imposed”.

Ramdeen added, “There are more Catholics in state schools than in Catholic schools and we don’t want our children or any children in state schools to be exposed to the kind of CSE that is currently being promoted.”

She warned that the push for this was ongoing and “relentless”. Asked about the inclusion of social and domestic issues into treaties, Ramdeen said, “It is becoming more and more a trend where they try to entrench these issues in treaties and if countries do not ensure that the documents reflect the values that they espouse, yet they go ahead and sign them, they will then be bound by the provisions once they ratify the Agreement.”

Contacted through WhatsApp text on Tuesday, Minister Browne responded: “T&T is not in a position to sign the Agreement at this time. A delegation will attend the meeting but will not be participating in the signing ceremony.”


No signing for Jamaica, Namibia

The Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS) praised the Jamaican government for not signing. JCHS Chairman Dr Wayne West told the Jamaica Observer the group is not against trade.

“This agreement has been from the days of Michael Manley, but the EU is now introducing this social, ideological component, imposing [it] on the ACP countries. So we hope that other ACP countries will say let’s do trade, but we won’t be part of that,” he said.

He warned of the erosion of parental rights when children go to school and are indoctrinated about transgender and LGBTQ ideologies.

In the case of Namibia, the Attorney General had highlighted certain provisions which according to an online article November 2 in The Namibian “impose certain actions that are not in line with the Namibian Constitution, its legal framework or its international relations and cooperation policy”.

The EU was notified of the concerns. Among them, “the absence of a glossary of terms or a definitions section within the agreement, which is crucial to ensuring a shared understanding of terms among all parties involved.”

Article 36 (2) of the agreement states: “The Parties commit to the full and effective implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the outcomes of their review conferences and commit to sexual and reproductive health and rights, in this context.”

Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah commented that this clause has the potential to bind countries “to processes and outcomes which cannot be predicted.”

Article 97 was cited as another area of concern for Namibia. It states, “No treaty, convention, agreement or arrangement of any kind between one or more Member States of the European Union and one or more OACPS Members shall impede the implementation of this Agreement.”

Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Partnerships, EU chief negotiator who co-signed the Agreement said “…it will provide a modernised framework to revitalize our relations with the largest grouping of partner countries to provide a platform for dialogue and coordination to face the challenges of our times together.”

In a press release from the Council of the EU, she continued: “We will do everything to harness the collective power of our four regions. The EU and its Member States – as Team Europe – have launched ambitious investment packages under Global Gateway across all three regions and we push forward to implement these packages.”