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EU Trade Commissioner upbeat on African EPAs amid ongoing ACP concerns

10 November 2013

At the ACP–EU Joint Ministerial Trade Committee on 11 October 2013, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht was “optimistic” about concluding the EPA negotiations. (1) He noted that three EPAs were currently under implementation in the Caribbean, the Pacific and Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA). He maintained that these agreements were promoting “new investments and business relationships”, particularly under the agreement with Papua New Guinea. 

In the ESA EPA configuration area, the Trade Commissioner highlighted the operationalisation of institutional structures under the Mauritius–EU agreement, and the convening of a “seminar to increase awareness” of the EPA among private sector operators in Madagascar.

The Commissioner reported “substantial progress” in the EAC–EU EPA negotiations, noting that a final stock-taking meeting was now required in order to conclude the negotiations. However, a submission prepared for the Advisory Group on Flowers and Ornamental Plants meeting on 9 October reported that there had been insufficient progress on outstanding issues in the EAC–EU EPA negotiations, meaning that outstanding issues could not yet be referred to ministers for their final agreement.

According to reports from ICTSD, a further complicating factor was the decision by the governments of Burundi and Tanzania not to attend recent meetings with the EU, on the grounds that “they were not yet ready to engage in renewed discussion”. A senior EAC official indicated that pressure is increasing on the Kenyan government, which “has no option but to sign the agreement” if its current access to the EU market is to be maintained – currently 31% of Kenyan exports are destined for the EU. However, any unilateral action on the part of the Kenyan government in signing and ratifying the EAC–EU EPA could potentially stifle “the region’s motivation to create a common market”.

In the SADC EPA configuration, the Trade Commissioner identified ongoing discussions on revised proposals on agricultural market access as “the main element and key to conclusion” of the negotiations. He also reported progress on an agreement on geographical indications, but acknowledged that “quite a few points [remained] on the agenda”.

A submission to the Advisory Group on Flowers and Ornamental Plants identified the outstanding areas of agricultural negotiations in the SADC context as “rules of origin, safeguards and geographical indicators”.

On the West Africa EPA negotiations, Commissioner De Gucht maintained that the EC was “waiting for a revised market access offer in order to make progress”. Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the Nigerian government from national associations, such as Chambers of Commerce and traders’ and farmers’ organisations who want the government to take a hard line in the EPA negotiations, given the findings of past studies that the region is likely to lose out under an EPA. Nigerian stakeholders have urged their government to “channel efforts towards improving domestic competitiveness, focusing on infrastructure so as to make Nigerian producers more competitive”.

In Central Africa, the Commissioner reported little engagement in the absence of “political guidance” from the governments concerned.

The Commissioner maintained that, overall, “EPA negotiations have clearly made much progress over recent years.”

More broadly, at a meeting of ACP senior trade officials on 7 October 2013, concerns were raised regarding “actions by the European Union with regard to prohibitive non-tariff measures” (NTMs). The Secretary-General observed that the ACP had “witnessed a proliferation of EU regulations, legislative proposals and other measures that continue to impede ACP exports to Europe”.

Editorial comment

Progress in the comprehensive EPA regional negotiations has been piecemeal, with countries signing bilateral interim EPAs independently of the wider regional configurations initially established. A common feature across the African EPA negotiations is the absence of LDCs from the EPA process or, in the case of the EAC, a marked reluctance on the part of some LDCs to continue to engage on the current basis of negotiations.

This can be attributed to fears over the impact of reciprocity in trade with the EU on their national economies and the perceived absence of any compensating benefits under the EPAs that reach beyond the benefits available under the ‘Everything But Arms’ initiative.

Against this background, the discussions at the ACP senior trade officials’ meeting on the prohibitive impact of EU NTMs could offer a way forward in the EPA negotiations. The EU’s application of NTMs is increasingly the most important obstacle to ACP agro-food sector exports. Getting to grips with reducing the trade consequences of NTMs is an increasingly critical issue in ACP–EU agro-food sector trade.

Offering through the EPAs a substantive mechanism for policy dialogue on the EU’s design and application of NTMs – including arbitration mechanisms that are binding and time-limited – could potentially offer advantages to all signatory ACP countries, including LDCs, in an area which is of growing importance to ACP–EU agro-food sector trade.

This would be of particular value if it formed part of broader programmes of support for ACP producers in getting ahead of evolving standards in major overseas markets.


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