EPA Update: by Melissa Dalleau

21 September 2010

The EU is considering ways to instill momentum in negotiations before the Africa-EU summit

On the 10th of September, Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht is expected to meet European Trade Ministers in Brussels in order to assess, among other things, the situation on EPAs. EPAs could also be on the agenda of a meeting of EU development ministers on 22 October.

All these developments are expected to occur before the 3rd Africa-EU Summit in Tripoli on 29-30 November. However, African countries have made quite clear in different occasions that EPAs might still be high on the agenda of the forthcoming Summit if the major remaining contentious issues are not sorted out by then - something the EU is reportedly trying to avoid. According to some NGOs, Commissioner De Gucht might be willing to give in to some of the African demands on EPAs so as to create more goodwill. "There is an EPA-fatigue manifesting itself in Europe after eight years of intense negotiations. The European Commission [...] is eager to close this chapter and will be keen to make the Libya summit a show of harmony not marred by tense negotiations on trade," Marc Maes, trade policy officer at 11.11.11, told the Inter press service.

ECOWAS continues to work on the finalisation of its CET

Over the summer, the ECOWAS Commission organised an "EPA sensitisation workshop" to inform all stakeholders in the region about the EPA negotiations. At this conference, ECOWAS President, Victor Gbeho, expressed confidence about reaching soon an agreement with the EU. Unresolved issues in the negotiations include, among others: the scope and timeframe of liberalisation, rules of origin, MFN clause, regional levies and the question of the EPA Development Programme. The next round of technical and senior official negotiations is expected to take place in Brussels from 13-17 September.

In the meantime, the region continues to work on the ECOWAS CET. Early August, at the opening of the 9th meeting of the Joint ECOWAS-UEMOA Committee for the Management of ECOWAS CET, ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade, Customs, Industry and Mines, Alhaji Mohammed Daramy, has showed optimism about the possibility to have a functioning CET by the end of the year.

Central Africa (CA) prepares the next negotiating session with the EU.

The Central African EPA Regional Negotiating Committee (RNC) met from 29 July to 3 August, in Kinshasa, to flesh out negotiating positions based on the Ministerial orientations defined in Douala earlier this year. Among the key questions addressed were the scope and timeframe of the tariff dismantlement. According to Maximin Emagna, an expert of EPA negotiations in CA, the EU suggestefod to reopen the negotiation on the basis of 71 percent liberalisation commitments. Central African experts endorsed for their parts the proposition of their ministers for a 60 percent trade liberalisation. Other contentious issues, such as the MFN clause, EU agricultural subsidies, export taxes, the critical issue of community levy and the question of the non-execution clause were also on the RNC's agenda.

A technical group was created to finalise the "Document d'orientation conjoint" in 2011, including the identification of needs and the different sources of financing. The RNC also examined the draft project text for the creation and implementation of the Regional EPA Fund. Finally, sources said, RECs and diplomatic missions in Brussels were encouraged to engage in diplomatic actions with the EU to support the demand of Cameroon not to implement the IEPA for the sake of regional integration processes.

The next regional consultation meeting will be held with chief negotiators in the second half of September.

ESA ministers discuss EPAs ahead of COMESA summit

The 15th ESA EPA Council was held on 26 August in Ezulwini, in the margins of the 14th COMESA summit - an opportunity for ministers to discuss the contentious issues and the way forward for continuation of the full EPA.

According to a source, discussions are also being held with a view to possibly merge the ESA EPA configuration into a COMESA EPA one. The next ESA-EC joint negotiating session is expected sometime in October.

Malawi Ministers meet EC Counterparts
On 26-27 July, Malawian ministers met their EU counterparts in Blantyre. Currently benefiting from the Everything But Arms initiative, the country has not yet presented to the EU its market access analysis. Despite private sector’s demands for such an agreement, Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika has reiterated that an EPA was no option until supply-side constraints were addressed. With regards to the EPA, EC Directorate General for Trade, Peter Thompson however warned at the meting that “at some point, there will be a time out."

Eastern African Community

No EPA meetings have been held between the parties after Ministers failed to agree on a number of provisions of the agreement in Dar es Salaam on 9 June. While the parties remain committed to working towards the conclusion of a comprehensive agreement by November 2010, consensus remain to be found on several contentious issues, notably on export taxes, the MFN clause, the development matrix and the standstill clause.

While waiting for the next round of negotiations, for which no date seems to have been decided yet, a national EPA "sensitization campaign"  was organised by Rwanda's Ministry of Trade and Industry, to inform all stakeholders about the "negotiations process, expected benefits, scope of the agreement, as well as the current trend of negotiations."

EU-SADC Senior Officials meet in Brussels

Following technical discussions, SADC senior officials met their EC counterparts, from 26-28 July in Brussels, notably to deliberate on the remaining contentious issues that had not been agreed in Swakopmund in 2007. Truly, some progress was made. Yet, no consensus has been found on the political questions of the MFN clause, the definition of parties, bilateral and agricultural safeguards, as well as development issues. Disagreements also persist on the degree of commitments the EPA should encompass with regards to trade in services and investment. According to one source, the EU also suggested, during this meeting, to add within the scope of the agreement new issues, such as IPR, GIs, sustainable development, government procurement, competition policy, as well as tax issues, which might hamper the pace of negotiations, that were set to be concluded before the end of 2010.

The next negotiating session in the region is planned from 30 September to 1 October.  In the meantime, an EC-Tralac regional seminar will be held in Cape Town on 13-17 September to discuss practical and technical issues regarding the negotiations and the prospects for the conclusion of a comprehensive EPA.

Caribbean EPA implementation

In July, the EPA Implementation Unit launched two series of national consultations on EPA implementation with regards, respectively, to trade in goods and to trade in services and investment (10). According to Brandford Isaacs the Head of this Unit, ‘the Unit makes use of in-country visits to reinforce the message that those CARIFORUM States that have as yet to designate National Coordinators [...] must do so as a matter of urgency'. Since the Inaugural Joint Council in May, although the EPA institutions have been set in place, little seems to be happening on the ground. This is mainly due to the number of disagreements that still persist between Caricom States and the Dominican Republic (see D. Jessop's article in page 8) and, according to the new Caricom Chair, Bruce Golding, to a lack of capacity.

The Trade and Development Committee -- body in charge of ensuring the effective implementation of the EPA -- is expected to meet for the first time in the next few months.

On another note, the 31st Regular Meeting of the Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government which was  held in Jamaica from 4-7 July, called, in light of the recent global developments for an "assessment of the impact on the projected benefits under the Agreement."

PACP holds a series of EPA meetings

The 8th meeting of the PACP Leaders was held on 3 August in Port Vila in the context of the 41st Pacific Islands Forum. Regarding EPAs, Leaders agreed that those states which had not already done so, should submit their EPA market access offers for goods.  Forum officials and ambassadors based in Brussels are expected to meet in October to discuss ways to accelerate the negotiations towards a comprehensive EPA (16).

Following a series of EPA TWG meetings, PACP Trade officials met in Sigatoka, Fiji from 19-20 August. Sources said, substantive progress has been made on market access offers, which shall soon be finalised. The question of fisheries however continues to remain highly sensitive and emerged as a contentious issue in the negotiations. No date has been confirmed with regards to the next joint negotiating session.

As for the Interim EPA, it is currently being examined by the European Parliament for consent. The first exchange of views is planned at the end of September in the EP's Trade Committee (17).

Melissa Dalleau is Junior Policy Officer at ECDPM.

A longer version of this EPA update is available on www.acp-eu-trade.org.

References

"EU backs off on EPA", IPS, 29 July 2010, http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52313

"EPA Workshop opens", Ghana News Agency, 31 August 2010, http://www.ghananewsagency.org/s_economics/r_19962/

"ECOWAS partnership with EU heading for success"
Ghana Broadcasting Cooperation, 1 September 2010, http://gbcghana.com/index.php?id=1.108881

"Ecowas Trade Commissioner expresses confidence over functional Common External Tariff in 2010", N°: 122/2010, 4 August 2010, http://news.ecowas.int/

"Relance des négociations de l'APE avec l'UE : ultime rendez-vous fin juillet à Kinshasa", (Le Potentiel 12/07/2010)  http://www.lepotentiel.com/afficher_article_archive.php?id_article=98206&id_edition=5029&yearID=2010&monthID=07&dayID=12

"Time up on EPA, says EU", The Daily Time,  29 July 2010, http://www.bnltimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4351&I...

"Country Stands Firm on Conditions for Signing EPA",IPS, 28 July 2010 ;

http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52306 and "Malawi maintains ‘no' stand on EPAs", Taonga Sabola, The Nation, 26 July 2010, http://www.nationmw.net/

MINICOM sensitizes on Economic Partnership Agreements, Alex Ngarambe, New Times,  http://www.newtimes.co.rw/index.php?issue=14356&article=32615

Caricom Secretariat-led EPA consultations make headway, Caricom Press release, 02 September 2010, http://www.caricom.org/jsp/pressreleases/pres341_10.jsp

"That EU Cariforum Economic Partnership Agreement",

Davis Jessop, CaribWorldNews via Jamaica inquirer, 10 August 2010, http://www.jamaicainquirer.com/that-eu-cariforum-economic-partnership-agreement/

"Guyana has no regrets over holding out on EPA", IPS, 12 July 2010, http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52122

Communiqué issued at the conclusion of the 31st regular meeting of the conference of Heads of government of the Caribbean Community, Montego Bay, 07 July 2010

Pacific ACP Leaders' meeting outcomes, 41st Pacific Islands Forum, Port Vila, 4th August 2010, http://www.forumsec.org/pages.cfm/newsroom/press-statements/2010/pacific-acp-leaders-meeting-outcomes.html

"Region 'genuine' in trade effort", 10 August 2010, Fiji Times Online, http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=153285

Trade Justice Now! May-June 2010 issue, http://www.pang.org.fj/doc/Trade_Justice_Now-May-June-2010.pdf

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