EPA News Update - January 2010


West Africa - ECOWAS


At this moment it seems likely that ECOWAS will be the next regional formation to conclude the EPA negotiations. West African and EC technical and senior officials met in Abidjan in November and agreed on the text of the articles that will be included in the EPA agreement relating to development. These will include a commitment by the EC and its Member States to mobilize the necessary financing for implementing the development dimension of the EPA and to seek complementary financing from other donors. There is also a commitment to create financing mechanisms should the Cotonou Agreement expire. Disagreements persists on the amount of goods to be liberalized and the timeframe, but the two sides are working on a compromise. West Africa revised its market access offer to a tariff liberalization for 67 percent of the region's goods in 25 years. The Commission calls for a liberalization of at least 70 percent of the goods over a shorter timeframe. It is worthy to point out that this already represents a departure from the Commission's earlier demand that 80% of the goods be liberalized.


Central Africa - CEMAC


The negotiations with the Central Africa formation continue to be stalled, and meetings foreseen in November and in the December 2009 were cancelled. In the first quarter of 2010 a new timetable for negotiations should be agreed. The last negotiation round taking place was in February 2009. However, at the meeting of the CEMAC heads of state in Bangui in January 2010 CEMAC expressed again its commitment to work towards the conclusion of a regional EPA.


East Africa - EAC


The negotiations with the EAC formation are in an advanced phase for an agreement on the liberalization of trade in goods, whereas fundamental divergences still exist on the liberalization of trade in services. Uganda's Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry permanent secretary Julius Onen stated that Uganda will sign the agreement for market access and development aid this year, but not a comprehensive agreement that includes trade in services, as well as other controversial issues like investment rules and government procurement.


However, there are also concerns over development assistance as the East African countries are pressing for commitments from the EU partners before signing the trade pact. Between now and March this year, a series of technical negotiation meetings have been scheduled, first in Bujumbura, then in Kigali and Arusha, which are meant to culminate in a decision on the development chapter.


Eastern and Southern Africa - ESA


In August 4 ESA countries signed an interim EPA with the EU. They are Mauritius, Seychelles, Zimbabwe and Madagascar. The other two members of the ESA formation, Zambia and Comoros, decided in the last minute not to sign. As both countries are classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) they benefit from the Everything But Arms (EBA) program of the European Commission. Felix Mutati the Trade Minister of Zambia, declared 'if we rush to sign, we may not get the outcome we want and we don't want to use time as a pressure point especially when dealing with sovereign states because countries are also consulting their citizens and these processes take time'. Mutati also said that the development dimension, and not market access, ought to be the basis of EPA negotiations with the EU.  At the moment no further negotiation rounds between the EU and the ESA group are scheduled for the next weeks.


Southern Africa - SADC


A SADC-EU negotiation round foreseen for November was cancelled upon SADC's request as they asked for more time to prepare the meeting. Senior SADC EPA officials met in Gaborone on 18 November, marking the first major engagement among SADC states since the signing of the interim EPA by Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland in June. Tension between the countries, which signed the EPA and those which did not persist.

South Africa's trade minister Rob Davies told journalists that South Africa would only sign the EPA if it is more beneficial than the current bilateral trade agreement between the EU and South Africa. Swaziland's Minister of Trade stated that internal activities of SACU need to be aligned first before a final EPA with the EU can be concluded.

A next meeting of SADC EPA Senior Officials is scheduled to take place in February next year, after which  formal meetings with the EC should resume. The EU expressed its belief that negotiations can be concluded by the end of the year if there is a real political will to do so.



European Institutions


During his audition at the European Parliament the Commissioner-designate for trade, the Belgian Karel de Gucht, did not say anything of substance regarding EPAs. He however stated that we would continue the flexible approach adopted by the Commission over the last months (in other words during the time of Catherine Ashton as Commissioner).


In its resolution on the Second revision of the Cotonou Agreement adopted on the 20th January the European Parliament lamented that 'the conclusion and implementation of the regional Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) has undermined the cohesion of the ACP Group and the ongoing regional integration process; whereas there is a need to maintain the unity and coherence of the ACP group'.


Thomas Lazzeri


Go back