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’ACP countries won’t bow to EU pressure’

The Herald, Zimbabwe

’ACP Countries Won’t Bow to EU Pressure’

By Victoria Ruzvidzo

14 June 2012

Port Vila — The African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries has said it would not bow to pressure by the European Union to sign the Economic Partnership Agreements, until there is a mutually beneficial position that does not threaten regional integration.

Briefing journalists at the end of the ACP Council of Ministers meeting here yesterday, the president of the council, Mr Alva Baptiste, said the ACP needed the EU and vice versa, but certain contentious issues relating to the EPAs needed to be ironed out first.

He said his organisation was not happy with its European partner’s seeming impatience.

"The EU must not put undue pressure on our members to sign. All the time, we want to negotiate with patience and persistence. So we will continue to engage the EU until the agreement is reached," said Mr Baptiste. .

"But we shall not be forced into signing until our concerns are addressed. There is so much at play in terms of regional integration and the need to put the right infrastructure in our economies before we open up."

The EU has given the ACP countries a January 1 2014 deadline by which they should have signed and ratified the EPAs - or it would withdraw the Preferential Market Access Regulation 1528/2007.

The ACP countries have said they would not compromise their position by succumbing to the pressure.

"This is an unfair position - that of a giant and a dwarf. We implore the EU to exercise patience. As ACP we have agreed that we will not be intimidated into signing," he said.

The ACP is contending the 80 percent threshold to open up its market saying this will expose its local industries to unfair competition.

There is need to grow local capacity first. The 15 years by which the threshold should have been reached has also been dismissed as too short given the fragile state of most of the economies in relation to the impending competition from the EU exports.

Furthermore, the proposed removal of export taxes that most ACP countries charge will compromise revenue generation for the respective economies.

The export taxes are also essential for enhancing value addition and industrialisation in the respective countries.

Mr Baptiste said the EU also needed to facilitate the establishment of trade infrastructure to place the ACP countries in a better position to trade with it.

Over the last few days the ACP countries have been unanimous in their quest to postpone the signing of the EPAs, which have remained contentious since the 2007 expiry of market access as stated by the Cotonou Agreements signed between the two parties in 2 000.

ACP secretariat senior expert in multilateral trade Mr Morgan Githinji said most of the EPA conditions were unfair to the region.

"The 80 percent threshold is a very high degree of liberalisation. It means we will be allowing exports from Europe to compete with our locals . . . we need to put in place agreements that benefit us as well not just the EU.

"We should continue relations with Europe but let us diversify with other partners," he said.

Position papers submitted by regional groups within the ACP this week showed that the group was increasingly becoming uncomfortable with the EPAs in their current state with many describing the 2014 deadline as unrealistic.

"We are calling upon our partners to appreciate that the delay in the finalisation of the agreement cannot be attributed to any one party as both sides have had a role to play and, therefore, it may not be useful to unilaterally fix rigid deadlines.

"What in our view should be set are benchmarks and checklists towards which both parties must work to achieve a naturally acceptable agreement," said a submission by the East African Community states.

The East and Southern African States (ESA) in which Zimbabwe is negotiating under said the EU’s position on EPAs was untenable.

"Development and strengthening of regional integration should remain the core objective of the negotiations towards a full and inclusive EPA taking into account both the concerns and interest on non LCDs (Least Developing Countries) and LDCs.

"Accordingly there is need for variable geometry that take into account specific interest of LCDs while ensuring achievement of the same end goal, namely

promoting growth and development of ESA countries and building South-South trade while ensuring that what has been achieved is preserved," implored the group.

"The PACP region strongly believes that it is possible to build on the interim EPA and conclude a development-friendly and comprehensive agreement that can deliver long term development, economic growth and assist in poverty reduction in the Pacific ACP region," noted the region.