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SADC, EU reach agreement on EPA

The Swazi Observer, Swaziland

SADC, EU reach agreement on EPA

Stories by Teetee Zwane

28 November 2007

Southern African Development Community (SADC) and European Union (EU) negotiators have concluded the first phase of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

The European Commission to Swaziland stated in a press release that senior negotiators of the EU and SADC met last Friday to continue their EPA negotiations where both parties welcomed the progress made in their discussions.

"Following their discussions, senior negotiators initialed an interim Economic Partnership Agreement including a World Trade Organisation (WTO)-compatible market access schedule and provisions on development co-operation and other issues," read the statement.

It was also said that this agreement would apply initially to the EU side and to Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho and Mozambique on the SADC side.

"Angola made clear its wish to join as soon as possible," continued the statement, adding "South Africa and Namibia will determine their participation in the agreement in the coming days."

Both sides agreed to continue negotiations towards a full EPA in 2008, it was further stated.

What are EPAs?

The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are trade and development agreements the EU is currently negotiating in parallel with six ACP regions; the Caribbean, West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa and the Pacific.

These are meant to replace the trade chapters of the 2000 Cotonou Agreement between the EU and ACP countries. The waiver exempting these chapters from World Trade Organisation (WTO) law will expire at the end of 2007, requiring both parties to have put in place a WTO-compatible alternative.

The EU has committed to ensuring that the EPAs will guarantee both the development focus and improve on the preferential trading terms currently enjoyed by ACP countries while complying with WTO obligations.

The EPAs aim at integrating the ACP into the world trading economy and increasing the quantity and diversity of their trade. After more than 30 years of preferential access to Europe’s markets, the ACP still exports just a few basic commodities, many of whose prices are in long term decline.

The EPAs are WTO-compatible, preserve existing benefits and encourage economic diversification and development. The EU says the agreements will change the parties’ relationship, from one that offers tariff preferences to one that builds lasting regional and international markets for the ACP countries.

Under the current arrangements, the 40 ACP Least Developed Countries (LDCs) already have duty and quota free access to the EU while 37 non-LDCs have special tariff preferences under the Cotonou Agreement and one country - South Africa - has a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA); the Trade and Development Co-operation Agreement.

It is said the core objective of the EPAs is to bring each ACP region under a single trade regime to encourage regional integration, the growth of regional markets and creation of regional supply chains.


The EU has proposed to remove all remaining tariff and quota limitations on access to the EU market for all ACP regions as part of the EPAs negotiations.

The offer covers all products, including agricultural goods such as beef, dairy, cereals as well as all fruit and vegetables. It will apply immediately following the signing of an agreement, with a phase-in period for rice and sugar. The only exception will be South Africa where a number of globally competitive products will continue to pay import duties.

The EU says the offer will:

 Eliminate all tariffs and import quotas for all ACP countries.

 Give all ACP countries the same full access to EU markets that all LDCs have under the EU’s ’Everything But Arms’ Duty and Quota Free market access conditions, encouraging ACP countries to collaborate and helping build regional markets and supply chains; thereby responding to the concerns of agricultural exporters in countries like Kenya and Ghana.

 Not be tied to the requirement of equivalent openness from the ACP countries.

The EPAs are not free trade agreements in the classic sense.

Flexibility under WTO rules means that ACP countries will have to offer market access, but this will phase in over many years. It is said the ACP countries will also retain the right to protect sensitive products where the removal of import duties could threaten local producers.