Following the example of West Africa,1 representatives from Central Africa expressed to the European Union their reluctance, under the pressure of the looming December 31, 2007 deadline, to sign the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), citing doubts over the benefits for their respective developing countries.
At the close of the October 29 ministerial meeting in Brussels between the European Commission and Central African representatives in charge of the EPA negotiations, the African ministers2 cited a need for more time to continue their research and further examine certain technical issues. Matters of particular concern include the list of sensitive products to be excluded from free trade, bids for access to the services market and the terms for European support in implementing the agreement.
The Platform of Central African Non-State Stakeholders (PANEAC), in a press release, “cautions the two parties of the consequences of a hasty signature of the agreement, which would destabilize the minimally-structured economies, the fragile regional integration process and social peace in the region” and suggests that “the parties reach an agreement to continue negotiations beyond December 31, 2007 and that they submit a joint request to the WTO to express their firm willingness to reach a win-win partnership agreement.”
The European Commission could, as it did with the West African region,3urge the Central African States to commit, by the end of the year, to a partial agreement addressing only trade in goods. This would serve to bring the trade regimes linking Europe to the ACP regions into compliance with the multilateral rules issued by the WTO.
Given the many criticisms of the EPAs, Peter Mandelson and Louis Michel, the European Commissioners for Trade and Development, found it important to correct certain “misunderstandings.” In an article published on October 31 in the British daily The Guardian, the European Commissioners in particular clarify that the “EPAs won't mean "free trade" between the EU and ACP countries […] From the EU side there will be a full removal of tariffs and quotas on ACP exports, with short transitions for sugar and rice. […] African, Caribbean and Pacific countries will be able to protect and exclude sensitive products and take advantage of long transition periods to nurture growing industry and protect fragile agricultural sectors.” The EPAs will also be the main beneficiaries of the recent EU decision to allocate two billion euros in annual aid for the inclusion of developing countries in global trade. “Priority will be given to measures that help implement EPAs,” the EU representatives underline. 4
The European Union is therefore under pressure from all sides to concede an extension of the WTO-granted waiver and extend the timeline for negotiations. However, it continues to reject that option, citing the December 31 deadline. The content and validity of the EPAs are increasingly challenged and the process may lead to an agreement devoid of any strategic substance, whose only purpose remains drawing the process to a close, regardless of the content or form. A situation worth watching…
| 1 See Calls to Extend EPA Negotiations, published on October 22, 2007 in the “Personal Accounts” section. |
2 The Central African delegation negotiating the EPAs with the European Commission is comprised of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Gabon, Equitorial Guinea and Chad), Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sao Tomé and Principe.
3 For more on this, see Calls to Extend EPA Negotiations, published on October 22, 2007 in the “Personal Accounts” section.
4 Source: AFDI, articles and dispatches from national and international press outlets.