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TRADE: EU Aims to Rope in African States Resisting EPAs

Analysis by Aileen Kwa*

GENEVA, Feb 26 2008 (IPS) - The European Union is determined to get those African countries on board which have so far kicked against the economic partnership agreements (EPAs). At the end of 2007, only 35 out of 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries had initialled EPAs.

Apart from the 15 Caribbean countries which had initialled a full EPA, the other 20 African and Pacific countries had agreed to interim agreements which only cover the liberalisation of goods and agricultural products.

Many ACP countries had major misgivings about the EPAs. But most of those without least developed country (LDC) status were threatened by the possibility of having their exports disrupted. This would have happened at the expiry of their Cotonou agreement market access preferences to the European Union (EU) at the end of December. Thus they caved in.

In contrast, the pressure was not that great on LDCs as they are able to continue their exports to the EU under the Everything-But-Arms trade provision. The only non-LDC countries that did not initial EPAs were Nigeria, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, South Africa and seven Pacific Island states.

The two regions that were most opposed to the EPAs were West Africa and the Pacific. Both these regions saw only two countries each signing on, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana and Fiji and Papua New Guinea respectively.

Most of the West African states refused to initial an interim agreement. They are clear that they want to negotiate a ‘‘friendly’’ EPA. They have given themselves two years, up to 2009, to do this. As a first step, they recognise that within the region, there is much work for them to do before they can agree on the contours of liberalisation with the EU.


The farmers’ movement in some of the West African countries has made its voice heard. Having suffered the detrimental impacts of the flood of food imports in the past decade, they want their region to have higher tariffs on agricultural imports than is currently the case.

Some countries in West Africa, such as Nigeria, already have fairly high tariffs. The work internally is to raise the existing tariff levels, harmonise these levels within the region, and then work out ways to negotiate the EPA with the EU on this basis.

According to Marc Maes, an EPA expert from the Brussels-based development organisation 11.11.11., the West Africans were angry that the EU had pushed Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana to the point where they had signed individual EPAs ahead of the rest of the region.

The region wanted to move ahead together and now that task has been made so much more difficult unless changes can be made to the interim agreements that have been signed by these two countries.

In Central Africa, countries have signed individual EPAs protecting various sensitive products. It will be challenging to harmonise the different schedules and convert the interim agreements into full EPAs at the regional level.

According to Maes, ‘‘the region is now in pieces. The pieces will have to be brought together. The countries need to find common ground and this will take time’’.

A European Commission (EC) official told IPS, ‘‘the interim agreements that were initialled at the end of last year with Pacific and African countries were a means to secure and even extend their market access to the EU, given the expiry of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) waiver.’’

The WTO waiver refers to an interim breathing period allowed by WTO states to the EU and ACP to bring their trade arrangement in line with WTO rules.

Maes spoke to IPS about the EC’s 2008 work plan, saying, ‘‘they are going to be pretty determined and aggressive. In each of the interim agreements, they have clauses for accession.

‘‘For example, in West Africa, where only Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana have initialled an interim agreement, they want the outstanding countries in that region to accede to this agreement. The interim agreements also have rendezvous clauses which are commitments to further negotiations that include the services and trade related issues.

‘‘They are going to push as hard as they can to make those countries that signed the interim agreements live up to these rendezvous clauses, and those that have not signed any agreement to do so.’’

According to Maes, some rendezvous clauses, however, are more aggressive than others. In the Southern African interim EPA, countries had agreed to the liberalisation of one service sector the moment the full EPA is signed and that they would open up other services sectors in the following three years. Other agreements are less specific.

Will negotiations in 2008 be as contentious and fraught with tension between the two sides as in 2007? According to Maes, the EU seems to be backtracking on its promises to the ACP once again, and there could possibly be a fight over this.

‘‘In Lisbon (at the EU-Africa Summit in December 2007), as a result of the public outcry by APC countries over the EPAs, Jose Barroso (the EC president) promised that he would meet all the ACP regions at high level this year and that the interim EPAs that had been signed in haste will be revised.

‘‘The ACP countries, in their resolution of December 13, 2007, welcomed the Barroso proposal. They want these interim agreements to be reviewed at these high level meetings, and for the contentious issues to be taken out.’’

But, said Maes, ‘‘now the Commission is backtracking. Peter Mandelson (EU trade commissioner) told the European parliament at the end of January that the Commission will not look backwards but forwards.

‘‘They see the high level meetings as opportunities to launch negotiations for the full EPAs and that, in the context of negotiating full EPAs, the interim agreements can be improved upon.’’

*The first in a two-part series

 
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