In 2000, the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, otherwise known as the ACP group, adopted the Cotonou Agreement, which is a framework treaty on trade, aid and political cooperation. It replaced the previous Lomé Convention, providing for a general set of privileged relations between the EU and the ACP countries in matters of market access, technical assistance and other issues. The objective is to facilitate the economic and political integration of the ACP countries into a liberalised world market over the next 20 years.

Under the Cotonou Agreement, the parties agreed to negotiate a separate set of free trade agreements between the EU and the participating ACP countries, tailored to six clusters of countries (West Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, Central Africa, SADC, the Caribbean and the Pacific). For the EU the EPAs are meant to be comprehensive free trade agreements, laced with rhetoric about "development" and "regional integration". For the EU, comprehensive means not just about the liberalisation of trade in goods, but also about liberalisation of services, investments and government procurement, and the strengthening of intellectual property rights, competition rules, etc.

The negotiations on these EPAs started in September 2002 and were supposed to be completed by 31 December 2007. Hence, a WTO waiver to maintain the EU’s unilateral preferential trade relations with ACP countries until that date was sought and granted. (The EU pushed "WTO compatibility" of the EPAs as a frame for the talks and ACP countries accepted it.) As the talks advanced, ACP governments became caught between a rock and a hard place. They wanted the bits of market access that the EPAs offered, but would have to pay an extremely high price in terms of loss of customs revenue, destabilisation of their economies from the expected flood of EU imports, unclear financial aid commitments from Brussels, reduced political autonomy, etc. Civil society, labour unions and business groups in the ACP countries studied the implications and came out with vigorous campaigns to stop the signing of the EPAs.

The 31 December 2007 deadline for the EPAs to be signed came and went in a flurry of drama. Only the Caribbean region concluded negotiations on a comprehensive EPA before the deadline. A number of other states — including Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire — initialled bilateral interim EPAs on goods only, to secure the continuation of their exports. Others, like Senegal, swore they would not sign until “development concerns” were seriously taken on board. Negotiations then continued to revise the interim EPAs which appeared to contain many problematic provisions; and to arrive at regional agreements. In order to put pressure on the negotiations, the EU imposed a new deadline: (non-LDC, least developed country) ACP countries which had initialled or signed (interim) EPAs but did not ratify or start to implement these agreements before 1.1.2014 would lose their preferential market access to the EU. As a result of this threat, regional EPAs were initialled in the summer of 2014 in West, East and Southern Africa. However, the European Commission warned the three regions that it would withdraw preferential market access if these regional EPAs would not be ratified within two years. In the summer of 2016 the European Commission tabled the legal instruments to give effect to this threat on 1 October 2016. All targeted (non-LDC) countries (Ghana, Ivory Coast, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Kenya) surrendered and “ratified”.

West African countries approved a regional EPA on 10 July 2014 but the agreement is yet to be signed by the Gambia, Mauretania and Nigeria (where it faces sustained opposition). Under pressure of the European Commission’s 2016 ultimatum, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana therefore decided in August 2016 to ratify their old and outdated 2007 agreement. The Cote d’Ivoire interim EPA has been applied since 8 September 2016, while the Ghana interim EPA still has to be approved by the European Parliament.

The East African Community (or EAC) EPA was supposed to be signed in July 2016 but Tanzania announced that is was not ready to sign, as it wanted to further examine the effects of the EPA especially in the light of a possible Brexit. Under pressure from the EU, Kenya, the only non-LDC in the region, decided to sign and ratify the EPA on its own. Rwanda signed as well.

In Southern African, six member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), namely Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, signed the regional EPA that they had initialled in 2014. The European Parliament approved it on 14 September 2016. Provisional implementation started on 10 October 2016.

In all other ACP regions (except the Caribbean) regional EPA negotiations failed completely: as a result number of countries ratified or started to provisionally apply separate 2007 interim EPAs (most of them under pressure of the EU’s 2015 ultimatum): Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Fiji.

Nevertheless, only 12 African countries are implementing an EPA, and 12 others have no EPA at all. In the Pacific only 2 out of the 14 countries have an EPA.

Below is an overview of the EPA’s state of play as of 14 October 2016 (courtesy of Marc Maes):

EU-ACP sub-group status of agreement
Caribbean • full EPA initialed in Dec 2007 and signed in October 2008 (and December 2009 by Haiti) and approved by the European Parliament (March 2009). Ratification still pending in most Caribbean and EU states. Caribbean countries experience difficulties with the implementation of the EPA. Haïti does not apply the EPA.
Central Africa • interim EPA initialled (Dec 2007) and signed by Cameroon only (January 2009), approved by the European Parliament (June 2013), ratified by Cameroon (August 2016)
West Africa • interim EPA initialled by Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana only (Dec 2007)
• this interim EPA signed by Côte d’Ivoire (Nov 2008) and approved by the European Parliament (March 2009)
• Regional EPA (that would replace two interim EPAs) initialed in July 2016. 13 countries have signed this EPA; Nigeria, the Gambia and Mauritania have not
• interim EPA ratified by Côte d’Ivoire in August 2016 and applied since 8 September 2016
• interim EPA signed and ratified by Ghana (Aug 2016)
East and Southern Africa (ESA) This region originally comprised 16 countries, but fell apart at the end of 2007. Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Soudan dropped out of the process; the EAC initialled a seperate regional interim EPA (see below); so that only the following countries remained: Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar and Zambia. These initialed the same EPA text (Nov-Dec 2007) but only Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar signed (August 2009). Zimbabwe, Seychelles and Madagascar have in the meantime ratified the agreement while Mauritius has notified provisional implementation. The European Parliament has approved this interim EPA in January 2013. Mauritius signed in 2015 the Joint Undertaking on Administrative Cooperation for the Implementation of the Cumulation Provisions contained in the EPA
East Africa • regional interim EPA initialled by East African Community members Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda (Nov 2007)
• revised and more complete regional EPA initialed in October 2014
• Kenya and Rwanda signed this EPA in September 2016, Kenya also ratified it
Southern Africa • regional interim EPA initialled by Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Mozambique (Nov-Dec 2007) and signed by Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique only (June 2009)
• revised and more complete regional EPA initialled on 15 July 2014; signed by Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Mozambique and South Africa on 10 June 2016 and ratified by all except Mozambique; ratified by the European Parliament on 14 September 2016; provisionally applied since 10 October 2016
• Angola has dropped out of the process but has an option to join the agreement in the future
Pacific • interim EPA initialed by Papua New Guinea and Fiji only (Nov 2007). Signed (July 2009) and ratified (February 2011) by Papua New Guinea; signed by Fiji (Dec 2009) and provisionally applied since July 2014
• 12 countries have not initialled anything yet

last update: October 2016

Read more

Read less


  • ACP Secretariat webpage on EPA negotiations
  • Africa-Europe: What alternatives?
    A meeting of networks, researchers, NGOs and civil society groups in Lisbon, 7-9 December 2007
    Site web de la CEDEAO sur l’APE Afrique de l’Ouest-Union Européenne
  • Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery
    Speeches from the Signing Ceremony of the CARIFORUM-EC EPA
  • EPA Watch
    This website, run by an NGO in Belgium, is meant as an instrument to monitor the trade negotiations between the European Union and the ACP countries which will take place between 2002 and 2008 with the aim of concluding Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).
  • EPA Watch EU
    CSO news and activities around Economic Partnership Agreements
  • EPA-07
    Information and co-ordination for the international campaign against the EU-ACP EPAs in 2007
  • European Commission webpage on EPA negotiations
  • European Research Office
    ERO is a not for profit non governmental research unit specialising in the analysis of issues faced in Southern Africa’s trade, aid and agricultural sector relations with the European Union (EU).
    Complete dossier on the CARIFORUM-EU EPA, including Text of the Agreements, critical analysis of its provisions, news items and citizens initiatives to Renegotiate the EPA
    The Pacific Regional Economic Integration Programme (PACREIP) enhances the capacity of Pacific ACP States to support regional economic integration, preparation and conduct of negotiations of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), as well as the effective operation of the Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA).
    Plateforme Haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif, en lutte contre les APE
  • Price WaterhouseCoopers SIA of the EPAs
    Price WaterhouseCoopers was contracted by the European Union to produce a ’Sustainability Impact Assessment’ of the new Economic Partnership Agreements between the ACP & the GCC States and the EU
    This website aims to facilitate a large coalition of ACP and EU civil society organisations aiming at stopping the EU’s current approach in negotiating free trade agreements with the countries of the ACP.
  • The EPA Exposed
    Under the EPAs we are about to become the consumers to a master-supplier in a master servant relationship.
  • Tralac - EPAs website
    tralac’s website on the EPA negotiations