EPA News Update - March 2010


After having largely been stalled over the last few months EPA negotiations have started anew at full throttle in the last few weeks since the new Commission took office in early February. Meanwhile the French Secretary of State for International Trade and the Secretary of State for International Cooperation has written a letter to the European Commission and to Member States asking for 'flexibility' and the readiness to accept more limited market openings from African governments over longer periods of time than the 80% in 15 years which so far has been the Commission's standard request.



East Africa (EAC)


The signs are intensifying that a signature of the interim EPA by the EAC countries, or at least some of them, is getting closer. The EU on its side is stepping up the pressure on the EAC countries. "The present stalemate needs to be broken and a realistic timetable put into place for signing the initialled agreement," Timothy Clarke, EU Head of Delegation in Tanzania, said. "The status quo is not an option."


Tanzanian Trade Minister Mary Nagu said the EAC wanted firm commitments from the EU on development assistance before it would sign a full agreement. "We need infrastructure such as properly working railways and ports to enable us to trade. We would like to sign as soon as possible after resolving these issues," she stated. Civil society organizations such as the Kenya Civil Society Alliance, the Tanzania Trade Coalition and the Uganda Food Rights Alliance urged EAC countries not to sign the EPA before regional integration was completed. The situation is particularly delicate for Kenya, the only non-LDC of the region, which risks seeing tariffs reinstalled on its exports to the EU. According to some estimates reinstalling tariffs would put at risk over 1.5 million jobs and endanger over Sh76 billion worth of investments in the horticulture and fisheries sector and other related industries such as chemicals, farm-input, and agri-equipment.



Central Africa (CEMAC)


In view of the meeting between the EU and the CEMAC negotiators foreseen later in March in Kinshasa, DRC - which by the way will be the first meeting between the two sides since February 2009 - the Central African governments agreed to offer an opening of 60% of their markets over 20 years. They defined the proposal as realistic considering the differences in development between the region and the EU. It is however unlikely that the proposal will satisfy the European Commission.


Equatorial Guinea declared that it would not join an EPA before 2020 and that it would take part at the negotiations only as an expert.


In January 2010, Cameroon was meant to begin implementing the interim EPA it had signed with the EU, but the government decided to postpone the implementation. As reasons for the postponement the government cited the failure to negotiate a regional EPA and the fact that several clauses in the interim agreement had not been met. Moreover, the government stated that it had not had enough time to prepare for the implementation of the EPA.



West Africa (ECOWAS)

Technical negotiators informed their EU counterparts at a meeting on 4-5 February that further consultations inside the region are necessary in order to revise the region's market access offer before negotiations with the EU can begin anew. In November, West Africa had offered tariff liberalisation for 67% of the region's goods and called for up to a 25-year transition period for some products. The EC, however, called on the West Africans to further refine the offer towards a liberalisation threshold of 70% and for some products to be liberalised faster. West Africa-EU negotiations will continue in March. These include a meeting of the Regional Preparatory Task Force on 18-19 March; a technical experts meeting from 22-25 March; and a senior officials meeting on 25-26 March.


Southern Africa (SADC)


Senior SADC EPA officials met on 11 February, following a January SACU (Southern African Customs Union) Council of Ministers meeting and agreed that Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland will move forward as one SACU entity in the SADC EPA negotiations. They also agreed not to notify the interim EPAs signed by Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland to the WTO. Ratification and implementation of these interim EPAs has also been put on hold until outstanding issues on development concerns, rules of origin and alignment have been resolved with South Africa, Namibia and the EU.

The EU is in the meantime maintaining its pressure on Namibia which has not signed the interim EPA yet and does not seem to be willing to do so any time soon. "The situation is untenable because it is unfair to countries that have signed and it is an illegal arrangement not permissible under the WTO," Jacques Wunenberger of the Commission's DG Trade stated.



Thomas Lazzeri


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