‘The EU market is open to you – but we are not going to let you in!’

The Economic Partnership Agreements that are taking place between the European Union and 76 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP), are reaching a critical point. With only a few months to run, researchers meeting at the Nordic Africa Institute over the weekend challenge the promised benefits of EU-ACP Economic Partnership agreement.

There are still major divergences between EU and the ACP countries on critical issues. In particular, there appear to be fundamental differences between the EU and the ACP on the meaning of development and the nature of the agreement needed.

Thirteen papers were presented at the conference. The discussions highlighted the disconnection between the poverty alleviation goal and the reality of the negotiations, despite the numerous political declarations both on the EU and ACP sides. In concrete terms, EPAs are in real danger of running incongruently with other key development commitments that the EU had made since 2000, including the EU-Africa Strategy. In short, the European Union is not living up to its commitments in this regard.

It is not clear that the current EPA proposals on market access will work for development. Access to the European Union market has long been constrained by onerous rules of origin and strict standards. Experts presented options for structuring the Rules of Origin (RoO) in a development-friendly way, and the forty-eight African countries as their Pacific and Caribbean partners have made clear requests in this regard. However, at present key questions remain unanswered as to the nature of the rules of origin that the EU would place on African exports under the EPAs. This makes it very difficult for ACP negotiators to evaluate the EU market access offer.

EPAs are to introduce reciprocal trade liberalization which would open up ACP economies to increased levels of imports from the EU. While the potential benefits of such liberalization are recognized on both sides, it requires careful sequencing. The Tanzanian case study presented at the workshop showed the challenges of liberalizing in an agrarian economy, taking into account food security and livelihoods, and emphasized the need for retaining policy space. A paper drawing from the WTO debate suggests that there are many lessons that urgently need to be brought into the EPA negotiations regarding special safeguards measures to protect ACP countries against import surges.

New areas of negotiations such as intellectual property have the potential to support development, but need to be weighed carefully. For this to happen, there is a need for assertiveness by African countries, as demonstrated in the recent case of the Ethiopian coffee producers and Starbucks saga.

While there were many different perspectives amongst the workshop participants, there was a common understanding that development considerations should remain paramount as the deadline approaches. The fast-approaching deadline for the WTO waiver is putting pressure on exporters from ACP countries, as in the case study of meat producers in Namibia. To avert disruption of business contracts, suppliers need to have an answer to the tariffs they will face by the end of September.

Several papers explored the possibilities for extending negotiations to ensure that sufficient time is given to reach consensus on the development fundamentals underlying EPAs. In this regard, the EU preferential schemes could be adapted to provide improved market access in a WTO-compatible way and ACP and EU were encouraged to fully explore these possibilities. Such adaptation would be consistent with the requirements of the Enabling Clause as was reiterated by the WTO Dispute Settlement Body in the 2004 EC – Tariff Preferences Case.

The final panel of the conference looked at Aid for Trade in the context of EPAs. There is the potential for the A4T instruments to meet development concerns in a manner that matches the development priorities identified by ACP countries. However, many issues remain unsolved including the definition of what constitutes aid for trade, the level and scope of resources required and the mechanisms for operationalisation. These need to be solved before EPA negotiations are concluded.

In the coming weeks, key decisions will be made on EPAs by EU and ACP Ministers. Trade and Development Ministers from the Nordic countries will be deeply involved in these discussions, and we hope that the rich debate and suggestions emanating from the conference contribute to ensure that the decisions taken truly support Africa development and poverty alleviation.

Yenkong Ngangjoh-Hodu
Programme Coordinator, Global Trade and Regional Integration,
The Nordic Africa Institute
e-mail: yenkong.ngangjoh-hodu@nai.uu.se

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