ACP-EU prepare for Council discussion on EPAs
The African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP)-European Union (EU) Committee of Ambassadors met on 3 May in Brussels to prepare for the 31 May ACP-EU Council of Ministers meeting which will discuss the state of play and perspectives on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). It is not expected that the Council will be a groundbreaking meeting.
The EU and ACP Co-Chairs reiterated well-known positions on their approach and what they see as obstacles to a swift conclusion of negotiations. Both sides restated their commitment to concluding development-friendly EPAs.
The EU Co-Chair said that the EU is implementing its renewed approach on the way forward for the EPA negotiations as set out in the strategy included in its October 2010 "Reflection Paper"- building mutual trust and enhancing dialogue; tailoring EPAs to meet the specific needs of the regions; ensuring the suitability of aid packages to the needs of the regions; and reviewing current market access under the EU's EPA market access regulation.
ACP countries reiterated their request for more flexibility in the negotiations and for the reinforcement of development components of EPAs. The EU Co-Chair said that the EU was being more flexible in EPA negotiations - on issues ranging from export taxes, additional safeguards and development cooperation provisions - and emphasized the need for flexibility on both sides in order to reach results that help foster a sound business environment, regional integration and sustainable economic development. The EU is also working on increasing EPA aid for trade packages.
The EU stressed that the market access provided since 2007 to ACP countries that concluded EPA negotiations is temporary and predicated upon implementation of EPAs by ACP countries. Only one of the 36 beneficiaries has since signed and implemented the EPA. The EU said this delay is increasingly unsustainable on legal, political and financial grounds and that ACP countries may only secure lasting duty free access to the EU market by signing and implementing EPAs.
The EU also stressed that EPAs can constitute building blocks to broader, inter-regional and continental integration as they address issues such as the elimination of non-tariff barriers, the improvement of business climate, taxation system reforms and the strengthening of institutional and productive capacities.
Central Africa prepares for June round of negotiations
There have been no EPA negotiations since European and Central African negotiators met from 12-15 April in Brazzaville; however, a regional preparatory meeting on services and investments took place in Douala from 25-29 April in preparation of the next round of technical official level negotiations which is scheduled to take place from 6-10 June in Brussels.
West Africa discusses EPA development support ahead of May round of negotiations
From 26-28 April 2011, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) Commissions organised a meeting in Lomé, Togo to discuss the institutional setting of the EPA Development Programme (EPADP). The meeting was an opportunity for EPADP national focal points to exchange on the draft national institutional frameworks they foresee to coordinate and monitor EPADP-related activities, and to consider ways and means to organise later this year meetings with the EU and other financial partners to discuss the national operational plans .
A regional technical level working group meeting on trade in services was held in Cotonou from 18-22 April to prepare for the next round of EPA negotiations with the EU scheduled to take place from 23-26 May in Dakar. There are, however, low expectations that the negotiations will progress substantially because the new Presidents and Commissioners of ECOWAS and WAEMU have not yet been appointed. A WAEMU Summit will be held in Lomé on 30 May to appoint these for WAEMU. Once the process is completed on both sides, it is expected to give a new impetus to the EPA negotiations.
EU responds to SADC-EPA market access requests
On 3 May, the EU responded to the market access requests on agriculture and processed agricultural products and industrial products that were tabled by South Africa in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) EPA negotiations in November 2010. Sources indicate that the EU agrees on the request to liberalise certain industrial product lines and delay liberalisation in others if the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) fully liberalises certain textiles and clothing products for the EU. On agriculture, the EU says its response covers largely all of South Africa's requests, but is conditional on a positive response to EU requests for liberalisation of additional products and on reaching a satisfactory agreement on the protection of Geographical Indications (GIs). The EU also put forward a non-paper on GIs that explains the approach they propose which reportedly calls for binding commitments beyond the World Trade Organisation's agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS). SADC has requested four weeks to examine the EU's offers and requests before holding another round of technical and senior official level negotiations. This meeting is likely to take place in Lesotho in June.
An extraordinary SADC Summit was held on 20 May in Windhoek, but no information on whether the EPA was discussed is available as TNI goes to press.
ESA meeting to chart the way forward on EPAs
There have been no Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA)-EU EPA negotiating meetings since December. ESA is currently consulting within the region on the joint draft text.
EU officials indicate that, due to the diversity of the countries in this region, ESA is possibly a case for an EPA with variable geometry, where some would sign on to more commitments than others.
A regional EPA meeting is scheduled to be held in Lusaka on 23-24 May as a follow-up to the December meeting and to chart the way forward in the negotiations.
The two sides have tentatively scheduled a technical round of negotiations for the last week of June in Brussels, subject to the outcome of ESA's regional meeting.
EAC Summit unblocks EPA support
The East African Community (EAC) Summit in Dar es Salaam on 19 April directed that the component of the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) grant intended to directly finance negotiations rather than capacity building should be allocated to the EAC partner states as they are parties in the EPA negotiations.1 The Summit directed the EAC Secretariat to negotiate with SIDA over allowing this transfer of funds to the partner states in order to immediately reactivate the EPA negotiations. Negotiations have stalled as a result of the objection by East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) Members to the use of SIDA funds in facilitating the EPA negotiation process. EALA objected on the grounds that this would not only compromise the negotiations to the detriment of partner states, but would also prejudice and weaken any stronger stance the latter may adopt on the negotiations.
As TNI goes to press, no date has been set for the next round of negotiations with the EU. Both sides still aim to finalise a full EPA by the end of this year.
Caribbean prepares for high level EPA implementation meeting
CARICOM (Caribbean Community and Common Market) Heads of Government are holding a two-day retreat in Guyana from 21-22 May to discuss a new governance system that would provide a legal basis for the implementation of decisions within specific time frames which all national governments must honour in a new spirit of shared sovereignty.2
A meeting of CARICOM's Council for Trade and Economic Development on 19 May discussed EPA implementation, including tariff reductions and the June meeting of the EPA Trade and Development Committee.3
Most Caribbean states missed the January 1, 2011 deadline for reduced tariffs on EU goods as set out in the EPA. By mid-May, only St. Kitts-Nevis and Guyana had notified tariff reductions. The rest are understood to be in the process of making efforts to effect their reduction. Some countries may however maintain restrictive measures invoking balance-of-payments and external financial difficulties or the threat thereof.
Pacific postpones market access workshop to continue national consultations
Pacific Forum Trade Ministers met in Vava'u on 18-19 May 2011.4 This forum includes Australia and New Zealand but excludes Fiji; therefore, EPAs were not discussed - the proper forum for EPAs being the Pacific ACP Trade Ministers (PACPs). However, reportedly there were tense discussions amongst Forum members on the PACPs request to extend the mandate of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER Plus) Office of the Chief Trade Adviser (OCTA) to EPA negotiations as a way to address PACPs concerns about the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat's (PIFS) handling of the EPA negotiations and as a way to receive independent advice outside the PIFS.5 Australia and New Zealand, however, want to make financial support to OCTA contingent on limiting it only to Pacer Plus regional FTA negotiations. The Forum Ministers recommended that this issue be further discussed at the Forum Leaders' Meeting in Auckland in September 2011.
The Pacific regional EPA workshop on market access offers scheduled to be held on 2-5 May in Nadi was postponed to mid-June so that work can continue on these, and on the EPA texts, at national level.
According to Pacific sources, on 28 April, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht replied to the request made by the lead spokesperson for the PACP EPA Negotiations, the Minister for Labour, Commerce and Industries for Tonga, Lisiate ‘Aloveita ‘Akolo, to hold a joint PACP-EU Ministerial level meeting in Brussels in May on how to move forward in the EPA negotiations. De Gucht reportedly replied that the EU wants to meet only after the PACP region submits its market access offers. EU sources, however, indicate that the EU proposed holding a stock taking exercise at senior official level during a meeting that may take place in July. EU officials also implied, in a recent meeting with civil society, that if it is confirmed that more Pacific countries join the interim EPA, they will benefit from the rules of origin derogation on fish.
Senior trade officials from the region met at an EPA Development Cooperation Chapter Workshop
in Nadi on 29 April to work towards finalising the draft, comprehensive EPA legal text. A revised draft of the Development Cooperation Chapter will be circulated for further consideration in national capitals and further discussed during the week starting 27 June. The meeting will also discuss the revised draft Memorandum of Understanding and draft report for the Pacific Trade and Development Facility as well as the structure for and the timeframe to undertake the Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy.
Melissa Julian is ECDPM Knowledge Management Officer; Melissa Dalleau is ECDPM Junior Policy Officer Economic and Trade Cooperation.
Join the debate: ECDPM seeks your thoughts on the future of ACP-EU relations post-2020 : http://www.ecdpm-talkingpoints.org/the-acp-and-europe/
5 Forum Leaders to decide on OCTA, 19 May 2011, http://www.pina.com.fj/?p=pacnews&m=read&o=6392063014dd492358e3a23e65a2c3 and Concern over Forum's handling of EU trade talks, April 26, 2011