EPA News Update - September 2010


The European Commission, in particular Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht, is determined to re-launch EPA negotiations and to bring them to a conclusion soon. The European Commission openly acknowledges that the EPA negotiations have encountered serious difficulties and that a way forward needs to be sought. Trade Ministers of the EU met on September 10th to discuss EPAs and the Development Ministers will meet on October 22nd to do the same. In a joint letter to the Ministers, De Gucht and Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs asked the Member States for their contributions.


Among the Member States to react, France, Finland, Denmark and Ireland were the most open to the concerns of the African governments, whereas the Netherlands and Portugal emphasised the importance of concluding the EPA negotiations. The new British government has seemingly no interest in getting actively involved in the EPA discussion, whether to support EPAs in their current form or a more flexible approach.


In addition to the meeting of the Development Ministers on the 22nd October, a meeting of the EU-ACP Joint Ministerial Trade Committee will take place in Brussels, also discussing EPAs.


The Commission also acknowledges that prospects in Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa are unclear and that a rapid conclusion of the negotiations in these regions is unlikely. In fact no negotiation round with either region has taken place in recent months and the way forward in these regions is totally unclear.


Eastern Africa (EAC)

After the EAC countries dashed the Commission's hope for a signature of the agreement in Dar el Salaam in June, it was agreed to reach an agreement by November. However, up to now no road-map on how to do this and how to solve the contentious issues has been developed and it is therefore unlikely that the deadline will be met. Commissioner De Gucht, probably still upset at returning from Dar el Salaam empty-handed, expressed himself in favour of revoking the duty free market access the EAC countries enjoy[1], unless they sign by the end of this year. The Commission's frustration with the region was also stressed by Harvey Rouse, the head of the political and trade section at the EU Mission to Uganda in a recent public statement.


West Africa (ECOWAS)

Negotiations between the EU and West Africa continue, but there has not been much movement on the contentious issues which have prevented the two sides from reaching an agreement. During an EPA sensitisation event in Accra, parliamentarians from the region urged their negotiators to be cautious and to strongly defend their position vis-à-vis the European Union.


Southern Africa (SADC)

At the end of July the EU and the SADC countries agreed to conclude EPA negotiations by the end of this year. According to the intentions expressed it should be a full (and therefore final) EPA, not an interim EPA. If this is the case, it is unlikely that both sides will find the time to agree on issues like services, investments, government procurement or intellectual property rights and to include them into the EPA. Moreover, the terms and the conditions under which the negotiations should be concluded have not yet been agreed by the two sides. The fundamental issues, which thus far have been an obstacle to the conclusion of an interim agreement with the whole region- the Most Favoured Nation clause, and Agricultural Safeguards - continue to remain the same as no agreement has yet been found on them and neither side seems to be particularly willing to move. So in this case too it is doubtful that the deadline will be met.


Thomas Lazzeri



[1] The duty free quota free access to the European market was granted to the EAC countries since they initialled the interim EPA in 2007, but did not sign it in that occasion.

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