European Commission Press Release, IP/05/1362
Brussels, 28 October 2005
Economic Partnership Agreements: EU and West Africa agree next phase of negotiations
EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson met with West African Ministers on the 27th October in Brussels to agree on the next phase of the Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations between the two regions. Ministers agreed to start negotiations in 2006 and endorsed a calendar setting out a precise timetable for the talks. This will mean starting work on drafting the text and legal provisions of the EPA and issues connected with market access, including the effect of an EPA on productive sectors in West Africa.
On October 27th 2005, Commissioner Mandelson held bilateral talks with a West African delegation led by the president of the West Africa Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), Mr Soumaïla Cissé.
EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said: “Today’s agreement marks a turning point in negotiations. We are ready to begin discussing the trade rules that will support the sustained growth and real development that West Africa needs. This will do much more than simply guarantee preferential access to the EU market, it will help establish a secure framework for investment, jobs and a sound business environment. This is part of a comprehensive approach to regional relations where the EU is highly sensitive to the unique challenges of development in West Africa. We are also deeply committed to helping the region manage the economic change this involves.”
What are EPAs?
Economic Partnership Agreements are the trade and development agreements that the European Union is currently negotiating with the 6 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions. They will replace the trade chapters of the 2000 Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the ACP countries. The exception of these chapters from WTO law will expire in 2008, requiring both parties to have put in place a WTO-compatible alternative. The European Union has committed to ensuring that the EPAs will guarantee both the development focus and the preferential trading terms currently enjoyed by ACP countries, while complying with WTO obligations. The EU is conducting parallel negotiations with six ACP regions.
At the beginning of his tenure, EU Trade Commissioner Mandelson undertook a full review of the EPA process, putting in place a new benchmarking system and expert oversight to ensure that the EPAs are genuine development tools.
The next phase of EU - West Africa negotiations
West Africa was the first region, along with Central Africa, to start EPA negotiations in October 2003. The Executive Secretariat of ECOWAS, in collaboration with the WAEMU Commission, is conducting the negotiations on behalf of its Member States.
Since then there has been extensive discussions on technical issues and the process of integration already underway in West Africa. This has included discussions on customs issues, a free trade area, EU import standards and the trade in services.
This ministerial meeting agreed a calendar to begin the next phase of negotiations. This will mean starting work in 2006 on drafting the text and legal provisions of the EPA and discussing issues connected with market access, including the effect of an EPA on productive sectors in West Africa.
Investing in development in West Africa
Although development assistance will not be part of the EPA itself, parallel to the EPA process the Commission will continue to invest heavily through the European Development Fund in development in West Africa, including in supporting regional integration and related activities. The EU and other donors are committed to providing the financial assistance related to the EPA process.