The Government is pressuring charities to be "more constructive" in their campaign against free-trade deals with the developing world.
An internal memo seen by Third Sector reveals that Ian McCartney, trade minister at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, has told officials to cancel meetings with charities opposed to the new EU economic partnership agreements unless they become less hostile.
The memo, written by a senior civil servant at the Department of Trade and Industry after a meeting with McCartney, read: "I am under instruction to cancel my meetings with NGOs if they don't change their tune."
NGOs including Oxfam, Christian Aid, Tearfund, Cafod and Friends of the Earth have campaigned against the agreements, which they believe are unfair. The groups claim the deals will open up the markets of developing countries to Europe and drive indigenous producers out of business.
Alistair Darling, the trade and industry secretary, has been inundated with emails from supporters of the Trade Justice Movement urging him to stop the agreements going ahead. Campaigners plan a mass lobby of the DTI and each EU country's London embassy on 19 April.
The strength of the campaign appears to have irked ministers. Despite privately threatening to cut off contact with charities, the memo suggests the DTI will publicly claim it is still working closely with the third sector.
It says the DTI is preparing a new standard response to letters inspired by NGOs, "setting out how we are supporting the ACP and liaising with NGOs". This refers to the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries.
Joe Zacune, trade campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said the memo was outrageous. "It suggests our government has time to engage only with NGOs that agree with it," he said. "What a sad state our democracy is in if it's come to this."
Richard Bennett, general-secretary of Bond, the umbrella body for international development NGOs, said: "Civil society will continue to campaign independently on issues that are of concern to the public."
A DTI spokesman said it was "working hard with the EU and partners to make economic partnership agreements deliver long-term development".