EPA Update

9 December 2011

Exchanges on EPAs during the 22nd session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly

MEPs and MP from ACP States met from 21-23 November in Togo, Lomé during the 22nd session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly. [1]

EPAs were mentioned during the JPA. Before sitting in session with EU Parliamentarians, the ACP Parliamentary Assembly, meeting in plenary, emphasized the need for "flexibility" in EPA negotiations. [2] A few MEPs also took the opportunity to raise questions to the Commission regarding its recent proposal to amend the EPA Market Access Regulation 1528/2007. The new MAR would exclude from its remit  countries that have not taken the necessary steps to ratify, and implement their agreement as from 1st January 2014.

The Commission emphasized that the proposed amendments were not an "attempt to bully our partners into signing EPAs", but an effort to "(1) restore fairness between developing countries, in particular the ACP that have seen through EPA commitments and those that still don't implement; [and] (2) to improve the legal certainty for economic operators, as the current regime is not sustainable"[3], stating that this was also in the interest of ACP countries. When questioned on the types of flexibility the EU was willing to show in the negotiations to avoid that the proposal becomes " a "gun to the head" to pressure ACP countries into ratifying imperfect EPAs", the Commission replied that in addition to the concession it has already made on provisions on export taxes and safeguards, the Commission replied that it " will continue to show flexibility in these talks, but we must ensure this actually helps us to close a deal."[4]

The next JPA will take place in Denmark from 28-30 May 2012.

ACP-EU Joint Ministerial Trade Committee to be held soon

The ACP-EU Joint Ministerial Trade Committee will be held this year on 12 December in Brussels, prior to the Eighth WTO Ministerial Conference. It will be an opportunity to assess progress in the negotiations of EPAs as well as to look at the monitoring and implementation of those agreements, when applicable. This joint meeting will be preceded by ACP meetings of Ambassadors and Senior Trade Officials, the 94th ACP Council of Ministers and the Ministerial Trade Committee.

West Africa progresses in the negotiations of its regional EPA with the EU

Technical negotiators from the EU and West Africa met in Accra from 15-18 November. The parties also exchanged views on the revised market offer submitted by West Africa (70% liberalisation schedule over a transitory period of 25 years). Discussions focused on the revision by West Africa of the joint statistical basis behind the offer, the new categorization of specific tariff lines (and the analysis that underpinned the categorization), as well as the level of tariff classification that should be considered for this offer (HS6 vs HS10).

Unresolved issues in the negotiations include, inter alia,  the question of the ‘additionality' of development funding (now deferred to the political level), the definition of ‘third countries' concerned by the MFN clause, the non execution clause, the community levy, subsidies and domestic support, as well as Art. 106 addressing Customs Unions between the EU and third countries.

Substantive progress has been made in the text on articles related to the EPADP. The parties decided to insert a reference to the EU Council Conclusions of 10 May 2010 and to delete the article that previously suggested to annex the EPADP to the Protocole.

The meeting was followed on 28-29 November by a two days experts meeting in the margins of a Ministerial Monitoring Committee which considered the state of play in EPA negotiations and the progress made by the Region's two sub-regional organisations in the implementation of the recommendations of the last MMC.[5] Discussions mainly focused on the draft text of the EPA, on the questions surrounding the EPADP, on the market access offer and its impact, the Protocole on Rules of Origins, the setting up of the Regional EPA Fund and the state of play in trade in services negotiations.  Considerations and recommendations on these matters were endorsed by Ministers who met on 30 November in the context of the MMC.[6]

Following press releases earlier this month announcing the risk of Ghana "going solo" in the EPA,[7] Ghana Minister for Trade and Industry, Ms Hanna Tetteh, reassured regional partners during the opening session of the meeting for trade experts. She cautioned against the risks of ending up in a situation whereby different countries will fall under different trade regimes, undermining regional integration processes.[8] Delegations of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire have in this regard asked during the MMC to fast-track EPA negotiations in order to reach a regional agreement rapidly. The MMC invited the ECOWAS Conference of Heads of States to give political orientations to help the process move forward and suggested the organisations of a special summit of heads of state on EPA.

Meeting on rules of origins will take place from 6-10 February 2012, and should be followed by technical and Senior official meetings on EPAs in Brussels from 13-17 February 2012.

Slow Progress in Central Africa

The technical level negotiations scheduled on 14-18 November in Brussels were been postponed to February 2012. No date has so far been set for the Central Africa-EC EPA Regional preparatory Task Force.

ESA and EU stakeholders hold joint technical meeting ahead of joint senior officials and ministerial meetings

ESA and EU stakeholders met for a joint technical working group meeting from 28-30 November 2011 in Mauritius to discuss outstanding issues in negotiations.  According to sources close to the negotiations, progress has been made on provisions related to agriculture, competition policy, and trade in services. Regarding services, questions concerning market access, capital movement, and specific sectoral sections such as tourism or maritime services, were settled, among others. Additionally, development support provisions, the question of including an MFN clause (including in services), and the definition of "enhanced Mode 4" remains to be discussed.

Similarly, the market access offer in goods is still under discussion, as some ESA countries are expected to submit new offers, and argue for more flexibility in this area.  Unsettled issues such as export subsidies and refunds, special agricultural safeguards should be considered at the next technical level meeting. Others outstanding issues,  such as export taxes, the question of additional funds for EPA, and a few unsettled trade-related issues, have been deferred to senior official level.  Discussions also took place on Rules of Origins, but as TNI goes to press, no information was available on the outcomes of the discussions on this subject. As reported last month, a joint ESA-EU ministerial meeting will consider outstanding issue in the coming months.

EPA officials hold workshop to discuss communication and education around EPA implementation

On 25-26 October, CARIFORUM Officials met in Antigua and Barbuda for a first regional discussion on how communication and public education could support the process of implementation of the CARIFORUM-EU EPA, taking advantage of potential synergies With similar EPA Communication Strategies, in the region, and suggested creating an online virtual network of officials allowing the sharing and knowledge. [9]

In other news, Trade.com supported two missions undertaken by a group of Caribbean architects and engineers to Brussels. Both groups met with the respective European Professional associations and private sector actors, in preparation for negotiations of a mutual recognition agreement on professional qualifications. The mission was part of a wider attempt to figure out how to take advantage of the de jure market access that was granted to Cariforum service suppliers in the EPA, sometimes hampered by domestic EU regulations.

Lastly, TNI was informed that an EPA special committee on customs cooperation and trade facilitation meeting has been scheduled for the second week of December.

EAC-EU experts clarify their positions ahead of the next full round of negotiations

Following the last EPA negotiating round that was held in Tanzania last September, EAC and EU experts met during intercessional meetings from 15-17 November in Kampala, Uganda, to address the issues of economic and development co-operation, agriculture and Rules of Origin. The objective of the meeting was to prepare for the next negotiating session that should be held in Brussels at technical and senior officials level from 12-15 December[10].

Despite some remaining brackets, notably with regards to the overlap between the agriculture and the economic and development cooperation chapters, which should be removed at the next meeting, substantial progress has been achieved on development cooperation with parties agreeing on removing the obligation for the EU to provide "additional resources", and instead emphasizes the need for a joint mobilisation of resources.

On agriculture, the controversial issues of export subsidies and EU domestic support continue to oppose the two sides in the negotiations. As far as Rules of Origin (RoO) are concerned, the issue of asymmetry of rules between different negotiating blocks also requires further discussions. Harmonised rules would go a long way in improving the possibilities of intra-regional trade. It is worth recalling here that this meeting follows an EAC expert meeting, held in Nairobi in October, in which the EAC party already considered the revised protocol on RoO submitted by the EC. Quoted in the press, Director General of the EAC Customs and Trade Directorate, Peter Kiguta, also mentioned that consultations have been held with the COMESA Secretariat, to "implement the Council directive on harmonizing positions on EPA rules of origin COMESA and SADC".[11] " The EAC-EU EPA is on course", he further stated.

SADC-EU negotiators meet in Johannesburg

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) EPA experts and senior officials met their EU counterparts in Johannesburg from 10-16 November to discuss unresolved issues in the EPA negotiations. The questions of market access, rules of origin, services and investment, development cooperation, geographical indications, as well as services and investment (on which Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland have all expressed their readiness to take the discussions forward) featured prominently on the agenda. According to an EU press release, progress has been made on various provisions of the EPA text, although the question of market access, notably when it comes to the specific coverage of agricultural products, remains contentious.[11]

The next technical meetings are foreseen in the region from 30 January to 3 February 2012 and should be followed by a senior officials meeting.

Author : Melissa Dalleau is a Junior Policy Officer for the Economic and Trade Cooperation Programme at ECDPM

1 Click here

2 ACP Parliamentarians urge 'flexibility' on EPAs, protection of development funds. ACP Secretariat Press Release. 19th November. Click here

3 See Response by the Commission to Oral Question #7 by MEP Gabriele Zimmer. Click here.

4 See Response by the Commission to Oral Question #8 by MEP Fiona Hall. Click here.

5 See also ECOWAS Press Release N°: 247/2011. West African Trade Ministers meet on negotiations with the EU. Click here.

5 Regional experts meet to push free trade pact with EU. PANA. Click here.

6 Government likely to go solo in IEPA. 2 November 2011. Click here.

7 Hanna Tetteh calls on trade experts to reach consensus on EPA negotiations . Ghana News Agency. 28 November 2011. Click here and here also.

8 CARICOM Secretariat. Meeting on EPA Calls for Action on Communications and Public Education. Press release 398/2011. 1 November 2011. Click here.

9 EPA Flash News: EAC and EU hold EPA experts meeting in Kampala, Uganda. 23 November 2011. Click here.

10 JOSEPH OLANYO. EAC-EU trade talks on course. 7 November 2011. East Africa Business Week. Click here.

11 EPA Flash News - SADC EPA Group and EU hold EPA talks in Johannesburg, South Africa, 22 November 2011

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