By signing the Cotonou Agreement, the EU and the ACP States agreed on a process to establish Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) that will pursue trade liberalisation between the signatories, and will create free trade areas. These new "free trade" agreements are being negotiated currently and will progressively remove trade barriers between Africa and Europe. The asymmetry and "unilateral preferences" granted to the ACP in the Lomé Conventions will disappear in the new trade agreements. The 77 ACP countries will have to open their borders to the products coming from the EU, and set up a free-trade area (FTA) with the European Union (EU) based on reciprocity. The EPAs are compatible with the WTO norms.
Apart from a gradual and managed liberalisation of imports from the EU, the main objectives of the EPA-process include an enhanced market access for ACP countries to the EU, negotiations on trade in services, a deepening of the regional integration process between ACP countries, and increased co-operation in trade-related areas like competition and investment. Although these trade-related areas (services, competition and investment) were refused by the ACP countries at the WTO, the EU is putting them on the table in the EPAs negotiations.
EPAs pose a threat to food sovereignty
The number of undernourished people in Africa increased from 165 million in 1990 to 209 million in 2006. Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) risk to worsen the situation. The threats are related to the inability of domestic production in Africa to compete with EU agricultural imports, the potential restrictions on African governments to address import surges that could undermine local food production, and the limitations on the freedom of ACP countries to use tariff policy and market regulation more generally to promote the domestic supply of staple foods. Read more
Zimbabwe ratifies interm EPA
Zimbabwe has now completed the ratification of the interim EPA it signed in August 2009. With Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar already having completed the ratification process, this becomes the first interim EPA that will be implemented in Africa.
In the meanwhile ACP Ministers strongly opposed the EU's January 2014 deadline, declaring that “the delay in concluding the negotiations is due to the non-resolution of contentious issues owing to entrenched positions of the EC side as well as additional issues being added to the negotiating agenda in which the EC cannot be absolved from blame”. Read more
EU wants to force ACP countries to sign EPAs
In the last year, EPA negotiations had largely come to a standstill: only a few negotiation rounds took place and they produced no significant outcome. Frustrated with this lack of progress in the negotiations, the EU has decided to step up the pressure on the ACP countries. The European Commission adopted a proposal amending Regulation 1528/2007 governing the market access of 36 ACP countries to the EU. The proposal for amendment provides that, unless the 36 countries listed in the Annex ratify and implement EPAs by January 2014, they will be taken off the list. This means that they will lose the duty/quota free access of their goods to the European market. Read more
Western Cotton subsidies endanger African Farmers
The subsidies paid to their cotton producers by the US and the EU, as well as China and India, have fatally undermined African cotton farmers' ability to trade their way out of poverty. Cotton production in the 12 main African cotton producers fell by almost 50% between 2005 and 2009. The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) says subsidies reduce the price of cotton on the world market by 10%. Oxfam calculates that removing US cotton subsidies alone would increase producer prices in West Africa by 5-12%, and average household income in West Africa by 2-9%. Read more
EPAs and the European Raw Materials Initiative
The EU and its member states are increasingly worried about securing access to raw materials for European companies. The EU has to rely on the import of several critical raw materials from third countries. The European Commission wants to improve the EU's security of supply through bilateral trade agreements such as the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). Read more
EPAs in Services no good for Africa, says World Bank
According to the wishes of the European Commission, full and final EPAs should include an agreement on trade in services. The World Bank released a study on the inclusion of services in EPAs. The report warns that the type of reforms in the African service sector necessary to turn the sector into a driver of development on the continent cannot be achieved effectively through EPAs. Read more
Slow progress in EPA negotiations
Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht admitted that the progress the EU is making in the EPA negotiations is not satisfactory and announced that he intends to look closer at the issue over the next months in order to find a way forward. He declared himself flexible on technical details such as market opening but at the same time he also stressed his belief that EPAs are the right solution and that Africans need to understand that EPAs are good and important for them. Read more