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The impasse in EPA negotiations

By Cristina Casabón 

The signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) was scheduled for October 1, 2014, but African ministers of trade and experts in trade and regional integration met in a special session on 27th April, in Addis Abeba, and agreed to boycott. After a decade of EPA negotiations, the process has not produced the desired results due to the lack of progress in resolving the differences between the parties on a number of contentious issues.

Although the EPA aims ’to facilitate the ACP’s integration into the world economy through gradual trade liberalisation and improved trade-related cooperation’, there are fears they may be actually undermining the sustainable and long-term development of these countries and their regional integration processes.

In Addis Abeba, the Nigerian Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment Olusegun Aganga, and the Zambian Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Robert Sichinga agreed that rather than entering into the agreement, African countries should develop industries and create jobs for their people, working towards regional integration and intra-African Trade.

The Commissioner for Trade and Industry H.E. Mrs. Fatima Haram Acy outlined that the intra African trade agenda is the only way to give African countries control over their economic destinies. She declared that “the time has come to take the bold but necessary step to explore and put forward alternatives to EPAs that work for Africa.”

African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries’ positions on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), an European Parliament study administrated by Manuel Manrique Gil and published during the negotiations, pointed out that several countries are unlikely to sign an EPA by the October 2014 deadline, as major contentious issues remained pending in these agreements. The report said that ’most African countries have not been convinced by the implications of widespread tariff elimination and other conditionalities that would be imposed on them.

EPA are perceived as somewhat wrong in some African countries. The differences between regions’ perceptions are analysed in the EP study. ‘In West Africa as well as Central Africa, the private sector is not clamouring for the EPA, with the exception of the pineapple and banana growers. In Nigeria, the export-oriented sectors are not very vocal in pushing the country to sign an EPA. In East Africa there appears to be two main camps: export-oriented business sectors that are relatively well-organised with considerable influence on local policy makers and other businesses in EAC that are more regionally oriented such as small farmers which are adamantly opposed to the EPA.’

Before the Extraordinary Session, the High Level African Trade Committee Meeting (HATC) warmed that the EU is adopting the tactic of divide and rule; for ‘the Economic Partnership Agreements’ different treatment of countries within the same regional economic communities was a risk to the African economic integration agenda’. The EU should not turn a blind eye to the challenge or be perceived to foster division, for many European companies implanted in African countries and exporting to the European market, as well as many European importers, will be hurt by the loss of EU trade preferences.

On the other hand, African leaders should more seriously consider the political implications and economic consequences if EPA are boycotted. As H.E Mr.Aziz Mahamat Saleh, the Chair of the Meeting said, ‘it is important for Africa to strengthen the integration of its regional and continental market if it wants to make trade the engine of growth and development.’ In other words, African products won’t have access to the EU market after 1st October if the agreements are not signed.

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