EPA News Update - July 2010

There has been no negotiation round with Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) and with Central Africa in recent months and the European Commission does not expect to have one any time soon. The Commission also admits that it does not know at the moment how to move forward with these two regions.


Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht admitted that the progress the EU is making in the EPA negotiations is not satisfactory and announced that he intends to look closer at the issue over the next months in order to find a way forward. He declared himself flexible on technical details such as market opening but at the same time he also stressed his belief that EPAs are the right solution and that Africans need to understand that EPAs are good and important for them.


The Joint EU-ACP Council met on the 21-22 June in Ouagadougou in order to ratify the revised Cotonou Agreement. It was also planned that on that occasion a joint statement on EPAs should be released. This idea had however to be dropped as the European and the African side could not agree on the language of a common declaration, showing once again how different the perception of EPAs, their role and their impact is between the two sides. As a compromise, it has been agreed that a Joint Ministerial Trade Committee (a joint gathering of European and African Trade ministers) will be held in the autumn where EPAs will be high on the agenda.



West Africa (ECOWAS)


Negotiators of the two sides met at the beginning of June but no progress was made on any of the contentious issues. The European Commission continued to insist on a market opening of 80% in 15 years, without showing any flexibility. On the development aid programme, PAPED, which should go together with the EPA, the EU did not make any additional commitment. So far, the Commission has committed 6 out the total 9.5 billion Euro needed for the programme. Where the remaining money should come from remains unclear, despite all the assurances of the Commission. It is also worth noting that the 6 billion are not new money but just the cumulative sum of all European funds already destined to the region, which were simply renamed specifically for the PAPED programme.

On the Most Favoured Nation clause[1], the Commission insists on its inclusion in the agreement. In a recent meeting with civil society, the Commission admitted that it does so to defend European offensive interests. Some Member States of the EU would never accept an EPA without the MFN clause. The Commission in a moment of candour also added that they could "spin" the argument for the clause in a way that makes the clause seem good and important for Africans.


Eastern Africa (EAC)


The European Union had hoped that the members of the EAC formation would sign the interim EPA during the meeting between the EAC trade ministers and Commissioner De Gucht in Dar el Salaam on the 9th June. However, the EAC trade ministers refused to do so, citing outstanding issues that still need to be addressed before they can sign the EPA. Pressure from civil society in East Africa not to sign and a negative statement from the East African Legislative Assembly contributed to the decision of the EAC ministers not to sign the agreement. November is now envisaged by both sides as a possible new date for signing the agreement. It is therefore important for civil society to remain vigilant and to keep up the pressure.



Southern Africa (SADC)


The European Union has given the SADC group a written guarantee that the agreement found in Swakopmund in March 2009 on a series of contentious issues will be included in the final EPA. This will reassure some SADC countries while it will leave others like Namibia unsatisfied, which had already asked for he agreement to be included in the interim EPA. During a meeting in Botswana, the trade ministers of the SADC region agreed to suggest to the EU a timeline which foresees the conclusion of the EPA negotiations by the end of 2010 and the conclusion of negotiations on services and investments by the end of 2014 as the region still needs time to resolve the internal differences on these issues.



Thomas Lazzeri

[1] The MFN clause basically means that if the African countries sign a trade agreement with another major economic power and if in this agreement they make more concessions than they made to the EU, they will have to extend these concessions to the EU as well.

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