While scepticism is still the order of the day for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP), the evolution of negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA)1 is the cause of disagreement within the European Union member countries. Spain, backed by France, Portugal and other Mediterranean countries, threatens to veto negotiations until a better protection for farmers in outlying areas, in this case the Canary Islands, is guaranteed.
Within the framework of negotiations regarding EPA terms between the European Union and ACP countries, Peter Mandelson, European commissioner for foreign trade, in fact proposed, at the beginning of April, a total opening up of EU markets for all products from ACP countries from 1st January 2008.
But outlying areas, which are part of the European Union territory, fear that tropical produce, particularly bananas, will be subject to strong competition from ACP products.
The production of bananas within the European community mainly occurs in four island regions, including two French overseas colonies, Guadeloupe and Martinique. The other two banana-producing regions are the Canary Islands (Spain) and Madeira (Portugal). Banana production plays a central socio-economic role, particularly crucial because no other agriculture is possible in these areas.
By wishing to add bananas to the list of products, which already includes sugar and rice, and for which the lowering of price barriers would be phased-in gradually, Spain is trying to defend the interest of its producers.
These new issues, which merely underline the absence of impartial assessment and analysis tools, complicate negotiations, whose outcome remains uncertain. And yet the date for the implementation of EPAs is getting closer….
1 See article “ACP countries, Europe and the WTO: what agreements can be reached to promote development?” in the Analyses and Comments section, published on 21st May 2007.