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ACP ministers express concern over EPA negotiations

Leadership (Abuja) | 18 December 2007

Nigeria: ACP Ministers Express Concern Over EPA Negotiations

Justus Nduwugwe

The ACP Council of Ministers has expressed concern over the declaration by the European Commission that the non-conclusion of interim trade agreements could lead to serious disruption of the ACP-EU trade.

At the end of a three-day meeting in Brussels last week, the ministers expressed appreciation to Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom for their declaration at the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) meeting of December 10, 2007, urging the European Commission to show flexibility in reaching agreement on market access in goods by the end of 2007 and to avoid ACP States being made worse off in the new arrangement.

They also deplore the enormous pressure that has been brought to bear on the ACP States by the European Commission to initial the interim trade arrangements, contrary to the spirit of the ACP-EU partnership.

Furthermore, they observed that the recent statements and pronouncements made by European Commission to the media and other fora, are at variance with the demands being made to the ACP negotiating regions and states.

They regretted that European Union’s mercantilist interests have taken precedence over the ACP’s developmental and regional integration interests. Ministers noted the decision of the council of the European Union on November 20, 2007 to endorse a two-step approach to negotiate WTO compatible agreements including market access for goods as interim arrangements for ACP regions or sub-regions.

The ministers, therefore, welcomed the assurances given by the president of the European Commission, Mr. Manuel Barroso, at the EU-Africa Summit, held in Lisbon, Portugal, on December 8-9, 2007 that the discussions on the Economic Partnership Agreements would continue beyond the initialling of interim arrangements and that the contentious clauses therein would be opened up for re-negotiation. Ministers also welcomed his offer to visit ACP regions to discuss these matters further.

The need for revisiting the provisions which might be incompatible with their development goals and inconsistent with the binding provisions of the Cotonou Agreement was also stressed.

While underlining the importance of regional markets and stressed that any arrangements that undermines ongoing ACP regional integration processes, must be avoided, they emphasised the need to prioritise regional integration processes within the ACP, over the free trade with the European Union, be recognised.

Ministers noted the decision of the Council of the European Union to adopt a draft Regulation on 20 December 2007 to provide preferential market access into the European Union from 1 January 2008 for exports from ACP States that have initialled interim arrangements. Ministers however, called on the European Union to honour its commitments made in the Cotonou Agreement to ensure that the ACP States not in a position to sign an EPA, be provided with a framework for trade which is at least equivalent to their existing situations.

They equally reiterated the unity and solidarity of the ACP Group and regions and agreed on the need for the EPAs to take into account, the concerns and interests of all ACP States to ensure that no ACP State is worse off at the end of the EPA process.