Information Session on Economic Partnership Agreements: ACP countries call for respect for regional integration needs

Development cannot be improved by trade alone, but good trade relations have to be seen as crucial factor for development. On that participants of an information session on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) organised by the European Commission and the European Parliament on 17 April 2008 agreed.
Discussions, however, showed that countries and regions of the African-Caribbean-Pacific face very different situations in terms of levels of development, integration and specific needs.
So far, a comprehensive EPA has already been concluded between the EU and the Caribbean region. Chief negotiator, Ambassador Cuello Camillo of the Dominican Republic, said this new agreement was the best deal the region could have negotiated within the time frame available before the expiry of the WTO-waiver for the Cotonou Agreement. That waiver had been given until 1 January 2008, which was the deadline to ensure EU-ACP trade deals are in compliance with WTO rules. Without a new agreement, he added, the region would have faced open competition in its trade with the European Union.
While EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in his introductory speech had reiterated optimism to reach fulfilment of EPAs with all ACP regions within short time, reality appears to be somewhat difficult. In Africa, countries even within their regions have more different economic structures, different trade and export interest. Regions are also overlapping and not congruent with the regional blocks the EU Commission declared to be negotiation partners for EPAs.
In West Africa, only Ghana and Ivory Coast have initialled an EPA. Both are to a large extent dependent on exports to the EU. Not being least developed countries – which are covered by the Everything But Arms initiative (EBA) – they felt the need to ensure maintaining trade preferences given by the EU by signing interim agreements. But as Amadou Koné, chief negotiator for Ivory Coast reminded, a sufficient level of regional integration would actually be a prerequisite for a full EPA with the region.
This view was shared by Maria Manuela Lucas, Ambassador of Mozambique. SADC, to which Mozambique is a member, also opted for an interim agreement, but neither Angola which is covered by EBA, nor South Africa that has a trade, development and co-operation agreement with the EU have joined it. Already in the past it had been criticised that such patchwork EPAs would disrupt regional integration and development processes rather than contributing to better south-south trade relations. Another fear, also expressed by Mrs Lucas, was that ACP countries already highly dependent of budget aid, would lose an essential part of their public revenue if they were to reduce their tariffs. She therefore insisted on further negotiations about compensatory aid by the EU.
It seems clear, that in order to really contribute to development in ACP countries, the EU has to be more responsive to the needs of economically weaker partners. A good start, thus, was the reply of DG Development Acting Director Manuel López Blanco, who confirmed that upon request the EU will be ready to finance studies which help partner countries to establish for example their lists of sensitive products.