BRIDGES Weekly Trade News Digest | 31 October 2007
CENTRAL AFRICA STEPS BACK FROM SIGNING EPA, ASKS EU FOR PREFERENCE EXTENSION
Prospects for an Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and eight Central African countries became even more uncertain on 29 October, when Central African ministers pulled back from signing a deal, saying too much work still needed to be done in terms of negotiating specific trade concessions and related development aid.
The EU had hoped to set the stage for concluding an ’interim’ goods-only deal with the Central African states ahead of a key 31 December deadline (see BRIDGES Weekly, 17 October 2007, http://www.ictsd.org/weekly/07-10-17/story2.htm). The deadline arises from the expiry of a five-year waiver under which WTO Members allowed the EU to maintain its unilateral preference scheme for African, Caribbean, and Pacific states, after which time they were to have negotiated reciprocal EPAs that would be WTO-consistent.
For the EU to extend the unilateral preferences beyond the end of the year without opening itself up to possible legal challenges at the WTO, it would need to seek a new waiver from all Members of the global trade body — and it is not clear that they would agree.
Nevertheless, the ministers signed a declaration asking Brussels to do just that, citing the need for the more time to work out technical issues related to the EPA, from the development of sensitive product lists and services liberalisation offers, to securing assurances about capacity building and aid to compensate for tariff revenue losses. However, the European Commission flatly refused a similar request for a 2-year extension from the West African ACP bloc.
Sources had suggested that this meeting would be the first in a quick succession of signings over the next few weeks. With the schedule well off track, the Commission is believed to be working overtime behind the scenes to ensure all six ACP regions will at least have partial accords in place by 31 December.
Some say the EU is placing undue pressure on the Central African and other ACP blocs, preventing them from working through the process properly. Nevertheless, the Caribbean seems to still be online for signing a comprehensive agreement. The Pacific region looks close to signing a "stepping stone" goods-only deal, though sources say this may be changing. Southern and Eastern Africa may also sign goods-only accords. The Commission has set up a joint task force with Central Africa in an effort to find consensus.
The eight Central African countries are Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tome & Principe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
ICTSD reporting; "Déclaration des Ministres de l’Afrique Centrale," NEGOTIATIONS DE L’ACCORD DE PARTENARIAT ECONOMIQUE AFRIQUE CENTRALE - UNION EUROPEENNE, 29 October 2007 ; "EU presses ex-colonies for fast trade deals," REUTERS, 31 October 2007.