Trade News - February 2011

As there has been little movement on the EPA issue over the last couple of months this update will focus on trade policy more generally and not solely on EPAs.


Ghana has announced that it will sign its interim EPA with the EU. It had initialed it in 2007 but never signed it due to the lack of progress in the negotiation of a regional EPA for the West African (ECOWAS) region. Ghana did not indicate more specifically when it would sign the EPA. There are two sides of the coin to this story. On the one hand, it is good news as it shows that the negotiations for a regional EPA are not moving forward and that ECOWAS countries are resisting pressure from the EU side to rush into trade deals, which risk to be detrimental for their future. On the other hand, it also shows the pressure which African non-Least Developed Countries (LDC) like Ghana face. LDCs already benefit from the ‘Everything but Arms’ (EBA) scheme of the European Commission which allows them to export duty free and quota free to the European Union.


Non-LDCs, on the other hand, have to fear that the European Union may put an end to their duty free access to the European market and impose tariffs on them. This was the only reason Ghana ever initialed the interim EPA, which it did not like. Ivory Coast, another non-LDC in the region, signed its interim EPA as far back as November 2008, whereas oil-rich Nigeria refused EPAs and has seen tariffs imposed on its exports under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) scheme[1]. All the other thirteen countries of the ECOWAS region are LDCs and therefore do not have to worry about the loss of access to the European market.



In an open letter published earlier this month the trade ministers of France, Germany Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain called for a “less naïve” European trade policy able to ensure “more effective and more strategic defence” of European interests. “Our priorities must be about market access for goods, services, investment, public procurement, protection of intellectual property, supply of natural resources and trade liberalisation in relation to climate”, the ministers say. In other words these trade ministers ask the European Commission to pursue its neoliberal free trade agenda even more aggressively and to be even more narrow-mindedly focused on European commercial interests, with no consideration at all for the impact the European trade policy has on people living in third countries.



In Geneva negotiations to re-launch the stalled Doha Round at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have been held. The EU has expressed its hope that the negotiations can be concluded by the end of this year. However, the EU's optimism does not seem to be supported by concrete facts. The EU itself had to admit that so far there has been no progress on the contentious issues which had brought negotiations to a halt. The United States on one side and the developing countries on the other remain as far apart as before. It is also extremely unlikely that the US are willing to make any further concession which could be perceived by the American public as hurting American interests, especially so close to the next presidential election.




Thomas Lazzeri

[1] The EU's Generalised System of Preferences is a trade arrangement through which the EU provides preferential access to the EU market to developing countries and territories, in the form of reduced tariffs for their goods when entering the EU market. There is no expectation or requirement that this access be reciprocated. It has however to be noted that this represents an increase of tariffs for ACP countries, which hitherto have benefited from duty free access to the EU market.

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