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EU trade chief fears ’plot’ to block deal

The Nation, Nairobi

EU Trade Chief Fears ’Plot’ to Block Deal

Ips, Nairobi

23 November 2007

Africa’s largest nations are trying to block the signing of the economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with the European Union (EU), Peter Mandelson, EU trade commissioner has claimed.

Addressing members of the European Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Mandelson strongly criticised the positions taken by Nigeria and South Africa in the EPA negotiations between the EU and nearly 80 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

He claimed that the larger African countries are preventing their counterparts in the regional EPA-defined groupings from signing deals by an end-of-year deadline.

The EU has threatened to impose punitive tariffs on Europe-bound exports from about half of the ACP countries, if they do not enter into EPAs by December 31.

As the remaining 39 ACP participants are classified as least developed countries (LDCs), they qualify for a seven-year-old EU trade scheme, known as "Everything-But-Arms", under which they would enjoy duty and quota-free access to the Union’s markets for most of their goods.

"If you go to West Africa, the regional group is dominated by Nigeria, which wouldn’t touch an EPA with a barge pole," Mr Mandelson said.

"That’s okay for West Africa if you are relatively rich like Nigeria. But what about Ivory Coast and Ghana?

"They are not rich, nor are they LDCs. They need an EPA to avoid disruption to trade at the end of the year."

Similarly, he argued that South Africa, which already has a trade agreement with the EU, "does not have as much at stake" as its neighbours.

He raised the possibility that EPAs could be signed with other southern African countries, if South African president Thabo Mbeki’s government rules one out.

"Am I - because of South Africa’s inability finally to commit - to say there should be no EPA for southern Africa; that there should be a disruption of trade with Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland?" Mr Mandelson asked.