Regional news

17 June 2013

West Africa amends its market access offer

In a regional meeting held in Banjul, Gambia, from 6-10 April 2013, experts from West African states and regional organisations responsible for EPAs amended the market access offer initially put forward by West Africa in 2009. It has now increased from 70 percent to 74.8 percent, which brings it nearer the European Union's insistence that West Africa open its market by 80 percent over fifteen years. However, this new offer is the result of a feeble consensus, as many countries and players in civil society and the private sector are not convinced that it is relevant.

A few months earlier, in February, ECOWAS' Commission presented a simulation of market access offers in Accra to show that it was willing to be flexible and to prove its commitment to concluding the regional EPA. However, this simulation was not approved by the Member States, most of which estimated they needed more time to assess the impact the new offer would have on their national economies before giving their final opinion. They were therefore granted an additional month to complete their research and present their conclusions and positions at the Ministerial Monitoring Committee in Praia, Cape Verde, in March. However, this deadline proved too short for many countries that were unable to finish their studies. The ministers then asked ECOWAS to provide assistance to the states who requested it to complete their research.

Pursuant to the ministers' decision in Praia, the new offer will be sent to the ECOWAS Council of Ministers, which would need to approve it before sending it to the next Summit of Heads of State. Only after this it could be formerly presented to the European Commission, probably during the next round of negotiations.

In parallel with the work on the market access offer, West Africa has also made significant progress on two topics, in particular the common external tariff (CET). Indeed, the five-band tariff structure, which was adopted by experts in Abidjan in December 2012, was formally approved by the Finance Ministers in Praia, in March. The trade defence measures to accompany the implementation of the CET were also adopted by experts following a meeting in Dakar from 3-6 April, before being approved by the Finance Ministers. They cover anti-dumping measures, subsidies and countervailable subsidies, as well as safeguard measures. Along with the CET, these instruments should provide the necessary leverage to finalize the regional trade policy.

EAC-EU: Overcoming the remaining differences

The East African Community (EAC), like many other African regions, is also trying to overcome the remaining technical differences in order to adopt a set of political issues to send to the ministers during the final stage of the negotiations. The latest meeting of experts, which was held in Brussels at the beginning of May, re-examined the rules of origin and institutional provisions, among other issues.

In February, the chapter on support measures, also known as the "development" section, was adopted after lengthy and difficult negotiations. This chapter deals with the support measures from which EAC countries will benefit once the EPA has been implemented. This chapter, which represents a major issue for the EAC region, has now been concluded, following a few textual adjustments made after the meeting of experts. According to experts, adopting this chapter could be seen as a strong political message, showing that both sides are willing to turn the EPA into a real tool for development. It should also facilitate progress on other technical issues.

Indeed, during the latest session, experts successfully concluded the chapter on fishing, which was negotiated as part of the rules of origin. However, differences remain for other elements of the rules of origin, in particular the cumulation with other ACP states. The EU has reiterated its previous stance on this issue, supporting the idea that only ACP states who have signed an EPA will be eligible for cumulation. These technical issues are heightened by deeper, political differences that affect the MFN clause, full cumulation with South Africa, etc. These issues will be forwarded to the next meeting of senior officials.

Both the EAC and the EU are hoping to conclude the negotiations before the end of 2013. Few technical issues now remain, and the parties should come to an agreement if they can find solutions to the outstanding political issues.

In a meeting held in Kampala, Uganda, at the end of May, many players in civil society, members of parliament and government representatives called upon the EAC negotiators to focus on this issue. They urged the EAC to make sure that the intent to sign the regional agreement to maintain access to the European market for countries like Kenya did not hinder regional integration in East Africa.

ACP-EU Council of Ministers

The ACP-EU Council of Ministers took place from 6-7 June 2013 in Brussels, and relationships between both partners were dominated by the EPAs and renewing the European Development Fund (EDF). After the European Parliament set the deadline for signing and ratifying interim EPAs to the 1st of October 2014, the ACP countries deeply regretted the European Commission's insistence and the imposition of a unilateral deadline. In response to the criticism from ACP countries, the European Commissioner for Development, Andris Pielbags, stated that, since the deadline was only for interim EPAs and not full EPAs, it should be seen as a sign of appeasement.

However, the ACP countries did not seem convinced by this argument. The Co-President of the ACP-EU Council of Ministers, Botswana's Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Phandu Skelemani, highlighted the concerns of the CARIFORUM countries - the only area to have signed a full EPA - and other ACP states about the policy of differentiation, which might result in reduced funds for countries with better development performances. He believes that this differentiation could affect the long-term ability of these countries to implement EPAs. "The region is urging the EU to step up engagement on the remaining aspects of the negotiations which include a development cooperation chapter."

The Co-President of the ACP Council also regretted the risk of division inside ACP regions between LDCs (beneficiaries of the Everything but Arms Facilities, or EBAs) and non-LDCs, even though "it is necessary for both to move together and operate under the same regime with third parties, if successful regional integration is to be realized".

The issue of the EDF was also at the heart of the discussions. The ACP countries welcomed the adoption of the 11th EDF, which will have a financial allocation of 31,589 billion Euros. However, these funds will only be available at least a year after EU and ACP countries have adopted the revised Cotonou Agreement. Until the 11th EDF enters into force, the remaining balances of the 10th and previous EDFs and funds that have been allocated but not committed will be used. The Commission considered that funds should be accounted as an advance to the 11th EDF, whereas the ACP countries requested that they be provided in addition to it. They reached a consensus by agreeing to postpone the final decision on this issue. The financial envelope of the 11th EDF will be divided into two elements: (a) grants, in particular for national and regional indicative programmes, intra-ACP and inter-regional cooperation and the European Investment Bank (EIB)'s Investment Facility; and (b) loans from the EIB's own resources.

Summit sees African Union adopt  a strategic plan

Member States of the African Union (AU) met in Addis Ababa, on 28-29 May, for the 21st summit of the committee, 50 years since the inception of its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). During this commemoration, the heads of state adopted the Declaration of the OAU/AU 50th anniversary along with a strategic plan for 2014-2017, which charts the course for short and medium-term development for a more integrated, prosperous, developed and peaceful Africa.

The summit's press release revealed eight priority areas for the commission. These areas include "inclusive economic development through industrialisation, infrastructure development, agriculture and trade and investment"; "peace, stability and good governance" and "strengthening the institutional capacity of the union and all its organs". The union's golden anniversary was labelled as timely by the declaration, which reintroduced the notion of ‘pan-Africanism' at a time when African states are looking to decrease their dependence on foreign entities.

SADC bloc rushes to meet EU trade deadline

Trade ministers from South African development community (SADC) states convened in Botswana, on 20 May in order make progress on establishing a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) before next year's deadline.

Negotiations are made difficult due to the diversity in economic development of the SADC members, who therefore have different needs. Moreover, certain contentious areas impede consensus, including negotiations on rules of origin, infant industry protection and the application of the controversial most favoured nation principle (MFN).

All parties are understood to be working to finalise a deal on the trade in goods before moving on to negotiations on services and investment; issues of government procurement, intellectual property rights, competition and sustainable development; a more complex set of issues which lie at the route of the current stalemate.

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