On 30 November 2012, a draft EU Council statement was issued on the EC proposal to amend Market Access Regulation (MAR) 1528/2007. The EC proposal establishes 1 January 2014 as the deadline for continuation of current interim market access arrangements in the absence of completion of the EPA process. The draft Council statement set out:
- the initial objective of MAR 1528/2007 in terms of avoiding trade disruption, while allowing time for completion of the EPA negotiations process;
- the EC proposal of 30 September 2011;
- the European Parliament (EP) position 13 September 2012 and the initial EU Council position of 22 October 2012; and
- the ‘Council’s position at first reading’, stating that ‘the Council supports the Commission proposal with a technical adjustment related to the insertion of Zimbabwe in Annex I’, since ‘in spring 2012, Zimbabwe notified the deposit of the instrument of ratification of the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement’.
The draft statement further declares that ‘the Council shares the Commission approach that the initially proposed timetable gives those potentially affected countries the time to implement an Economic Partnership Agreement and thus maintain their current access to the EU.’ The statement rejects the EP position on inter-institutional decision-making processes and ‘shares the Commission approach regarding the powers conferred on the Commission’.
In conclusion, the draft statement declares that ‘the Council welcomes and supports the Commission proposal as useful and appropriate,’ stating that ‘the Council believes that its position at first reading represents a balanced package. It looks forward to constructive discussions with the European Parliament at second reading with a view to the early adoption of the regulation.’
On 11 December 2012 the European Council confirmed its position, supporting a deadline of 1 January 2014 for the conclusion of the EPA process, after which time the EC would be empowered to allow the current interim trade arrangements established under MAR 1528/2007 to lapse. This was despite the efforts of the French government to promote a later deadline for ratification that would give ACP governments more time to conclude the process and ‘lend the last stage of the process greater visibility’.
However, given that the trilateral dialogue process among EU institutions on this issue is now likely to continue until the second quarter of 2013, there is likely to be little time left to either complete or make substantial progress in the ratification of the initialled interim EPAs by the ACP governments concerned, unless the procedural arrangements are set in place in the interim. In later developments, on 6 December 2012 the EP Development Committee voted by 14 votes to 12 (with 2 abstentions) for the Parliament to refuse its consent to the ESA interim EPAs with Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe. However, the Development Committee has only an advisory role: the EP International Trade Committee, which takes the lead on this issue, voted in favour of approval on 17 December 2012.