FreshPlaza | December 12 2006
EU: fourth phase agenda with Caribbean EPA passed
by Jahir Lombana
Tholen — The meeting of Caribbean Ministers with Europe’s Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson resulted in the agreement of the agenda for the fourth phase of negotiations of the EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement). The main objective of this phase is to reconcile texts of previous phases. However this will not be an easy task, since the phase is expected to finish in July 2007 and there are still many issues unsolved. One of the most important in the current EU’s external relations is the direct inclusion of the sugar and banana protocols.
If the EU includes bananas and sugar in the EPA, Caribbean (and other ACP) countries will not need to justify a preferential treatment with a waiver because they would be automatically covered by the "Enable Clause" (the exception to the Most Favored Nation principle that allows to form free trade agreements without offer additional preferences to third countries).
Third countries (Latin America) are looking for free trade agreements with the EU in order to obtain the same access as Caribbean countries. However, it seems that the EU finds bananas as an issue that can be obstacle to begin free trade negotiations. At least with respect to Latin American countries supporting a new banana dispute (at the moment: Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Panama).
The EPA in the form of free trade agreements should replace the current unilateral preferences granted by ACP countries from the EU through the Cotonou and Lomé Conventions. The EPA has to be concluded on December 2007 when the waiver on preferential access at the WTO expires. At the moment Caribbean countries are negotiating exclusively with the EU, since WTO and Free Trade Agreement of the Americas have been put off indefinitely.