Differences and the Difficulties on EPA Negotiations


Currently, there are five Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) negotiations between the UE and African regions.[1] The European Union (EU) is putting pressure on African countries to sign or ratify the interim EPAs. It wants to penalize countries that do not show progress in this process. Meanwhile, the African governments are making great efforts to change the EPA conditions.[2] The EU is trying to negotiate with African countries as if both parties had the same living conditions and their economies the same level of development. But the reality is quite different in African countries where there are high rates of poverty and where the economy needs special conditions to protect their business. Because of the different levels of economic, political and human development, the people must be protected and fair agreements guaranteed.   


The EU insists that the EPAs are a driving force for growth for both Africa and Europe. However, the likelihood is that they will produce economic growth for European companies while African States will need additional resources to improve their infrastructure, to strengthen their economies and to compensate the declining revenues caused by EPAs.[3] In this article I point out four elements, which should be borne in mind for fairer EPAs negotiations.  


Firstly, from an economic perspective, the market conditions in the EU ensure a system which corrects inequalities among European countries, by communitarian economic policies. However, in Africa, we find different socio-economic realities among regions and there are no policies to correct such imbalance in the situation. For this reason, the African regions should protect their borders with regard to European products and intensify their mutual relationship to strengthen their regional market. The different African regions and countries should develop strategies to both promote and open their internal markets and bolster their economies.[4] Solid regional market integration among African countries will improve conditions and enable competition with developed EU economies. 


Secondly, there is a big difference between how the EU and African countries have structured their fiscal systems and how they fund their budgets for social protection. An eventual enforcement of the interim EPAs would reduce significantly the incomes of African countries and, along with the informal economy sector, would have difficulties to guarantee a social system.[5] African countries depend largely on the revenues obtained from the import/export tariffs to provide some public services as education and health. A liberalized market, as required by the EPAs, limits the right of African countries to impose import/export taxes that are essential to generate revenues and assure important public services.


Thirdly, although most African countries have a democratic system, there are still many institutions that need both more participation and better control systems. The EPAs would require democratic institutions controlling negotiations, payments, investments and monitoring the implementation of the agreement. Much needs to be done to enhance resources, competences and the implementation of EPAs if they are to be more productive for the African people. Fair economic agreements can help to establish more effective social justice in Africa and to empower both their business and their people.  

Fourthly, there are clear differences in the level of human development between Africa and Europe, as highlighted by the International Human Development Indicators.[6] The human factor is important to the success of economic policies. Empowering people means that they have more control over their lives, reducing poverty and the power of unfair economic agreements.[7] Fair implementation of EPAs will develop education, health, labour conditions, democracy, rule of law, civil liberties and human rights, and so create sustained economic growth.


For a win-win result on EPA negotiations between Africa and Europe, we call for respect for the freedom of African countries to decide both the path their economies should take and their model of development. This implies awareness on the part of Europe of the special circumstances of Africa and the need to resist interfering in its economic policies. Many African countries are in a good position to develop their economies but Europe should not forget the fragile condition of many countries that are striving to reduce poverty.


A fair EPA negotiation requires an awareness of Africa's reality and the creation of fair mechanisms to spur on sustained economic growth without forgetting the current disadvantage of African economies.


Jose Luis Gutierrez Aranda

AEFJN Policy Officer

[1] ESA, West Africa, SADC, EAC and Central Africa.

[2] While Europe demands 80% liberalisation of the market in 15 years, African governments and Civil Society Organizations (CSO) consider that 70% in 25 years would be needed to strengthen the African economies.

[3] ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly Resolution on Economic Partnership Agreements, 17-19 June 2013. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/intcoop/acp/2013_brussels/pdf/101293en.pdf


[4] African Economic Outlook 2013, OECD, UNDP, ECA and AfDB, 2013.

[5] The informal sector contributes about 55% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP and 80 per cent of the labour force at http://www.afdb.org/en/blogs/afdb-championing-inclusive-growth-across-africa/post/recognizing-africas-informal-sector-11645/

[7] Africa Human Development Report, United Nation Development Program New York, 2012. p. 115.


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