At the ACP Summit of heads of state and government held in Equatorial Guinea in December 2012, the final declaration, named the Sipopo Declaration, included 10 clauses on the ongoing EPA negotiations. The Declaration recalled the ACP’s original objectives in engaging in the EPA negotiations, namely ‘to transform ACP’s economies, improve competitiveness, promote sustainable development and thereby reduce poverty with a view to its eradication and to increase our States’ share of world trade’. It also reiterated the commitment of ACP governments to EPA negotiations based on these key objectives. It set this in the context of 40 ACP countries being classified as LDCs and the remainder having either a ‘high poverty index’ or having ‘vulnerable economies due to being small, island, landlocked’, or being ‘in conflict or post-conflict situations’.
The Declaration expressed regret that after 10 years the EPA process ‘has not yielded the desired results’. It noted that many ACP governments had initialled interim EPAs solely in order to ‘avert the risk of trade disruption’. It maintained that ‘several contentious issues that severely limit policy space or tilt the balance of rights and obligations in the EPAs persist, and progress in resolving them has not been satisfactory.’
The Declaration maintained that the EPA process had ‘undermined regional integration processes, with multiple regimes governing trade with the European Union in some of our regions’. It reiterated the ACP view that ‘the consolidation of regional integration processes should precede any trade liberalization commitment in the EPA process.’
Concerns were expressed regarding the proliferation of EU non-tariff measures and the impact of the growing network of EU FTAs on the competitive position of ACP suppliers. Concerns were also expressed over the EU’s GSP review, in which countries are classified solely on the basis of per capita income in determining eligibility for GSP preferences.
The Declaration called for:
- ‘issues that are not germane to WTO compatibility’ to be ‘removed from the negotiations’;
- equivalent LDC status to be granted to ACP countries that were part of regions where LDCs predominate;
- ‘mitigation provisions to be injected in the EPA process in [the] form of benchmarks, monitoring, and modulation or recalibration of schedules of commitment, as well as accompanying measures’, supported through the establishment of a dedicated ‘EPA fund’;
- steps to be taken to maintain ‘tangible benefits’ of EPAs for ACP countries, including increased consultations on processes of preference erosion;
- EPA negotiations to be allowed to ‘continue without the pressure of time so that the outcome will be an agreement that satisfies all sides’;
- the EU to ‘ensure coherence… in their development, agricultural and trade policies’, in order to ensure that ‘market access opportunities offered to ACP States are not negated, or diluted by measures taken on either the domestic or international fronts’.
In the light of ACP concerns and objectives, the Summit proposed the establishment of a high-level panel to ‘give political impetus to the negotiations, and to find solutions to the contentious issues’. The high-level panel ‘will comprise six Heads of State and Government, drawn from the African Union, CARIFORUM, and from the Pacific ACP States, as well as Members of the Troika of the European Union ’ and will be supported by seven experts from the various EPA regional configurations.
Many of the issues raised in the ACP declaration have a direct bearing on ACP agricultural trade policies and agricultural trade relations. The call to dispense with ‘issues that are not germane to WTO compatibility’ can be seen as the most important in this regard, since it strikes at the heart of many of the unresolved contentious issues. In the agricultural sector, this would have an impact on the use of agricultural trade policy tools, such as import licences and export restrictions, which a number of ACP governments use as an integral part of strategies for the development of particular agro-food sectors (see Agritrade article ‘ Horticulture development programmes under way’, 28 August 2009).
The granting of LDC-equivalent status to ACP countries that were part of regions where LDCs predominate, would remove uncertainties overhanging a range of Kenyan agro-food exporters, without undermining efforts to consolidate market integration in the East African Community.
More in-depth processes of consultations on areas of preference erosion, if linked to the elaboration of proactive response strategies, could bring important benefits to a range of ACP agro-food sectors. For example, accelerating the conclusion of mutual recognition agreements on organic standards could reduce the costs of differentiated product exports in the banana sector.
Similarly intensified consultations on policy coherence in sectors such as dairy, cotton, sugar and biofuels could ease some of the unintended adverse consequences for particular ACP sectors of internal EU policy initiatives.
The December 2012 ACP Summit Sipopo Declaration thus opens up a range of possible areas for taking forward discussions on how the EPA negotiations can refocus on promoting the policy objectives which underlay the initial ACP engagement with the EPA process.