What is Europe Offering Africa? The pros and cons of EPAs
Karl Falkenberg - Deputy Director General, DG Trade, European Commission
Christopher Stevens - Director of Programmes, International Economic Development Group, ODI
Joy Kategekwa - Policy Adviser on Trade, Oxfam International
Junior Lodge - Technical Co-ordinator, EPA Negotiations, Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery
Andy Read MP - Secretary, All Party Parliamentary Group on Debt, Aid and Trade
- Oxfam International emphasised that their EPA lobbying strategy was partly successful because not all countries have signed. Their 2008 strategy will also focus on convincing countries not to sign an EPA/to negotiate full EPAs. Oxfam supported ACP countries by analysing the proposed EPA texts and by lobbying for alternatives to EPA such as the GSP+ and the EBA initiative which would have helped most countries to keep their preference level.
- The Caribbean Regional Negotiation Machinery (CRNM) emphasised that GSP+ was not an option for the Caribbean since the most valuable crops bananas and sugar are not covered. Moreover, their intention to negotiate EPAs was not only ‘disincentive’ (risk of losing preferences) but also ‘incentive’ (attraction of investment; access to EU service market). Emphasis that traditional EU-ACP trade still largely mirrors colonial pattern. CRNM sees preferences only as an interim solution helping to transform their economies.
- Whether the December 2007 deadline had to be met or not was disputed. While the EC emphasised that the 2007 deadline has been a joint idea agreed in the Cotonou Agreement and that a 25 years negotiation deadline would not have brought a different solution ODI pointed out that that ‘missing the deadline’ is rather the rule than the exception in international trade negotiations. EU pressure put upon ACP countries to meet the deadline was not constructive and led to ill-prepared agreements – as for instance be seen with respect to regional integration .
- The Commission explains ACP’s harsh opposition towards EPAs as ‘communication problems’. The advantages of EPAs would be obvious and self-explanatory. Reforms would always be difficult and ACP capacities are weak. However, long transition periods and asymmetrical commitments help to bridge this gap and EPAs are necessary to create transparent conditions for business.
- The Commission will not negotiate all contentious issues in the interim EPAs per se but emphasised it readiness to re-negotiate the interim EPAs in order to form regional EPAs. The example of CEMAC was quoted that would not have to accept Cameroon’s interim EPA but could negotiate a new, regional agreement.
- ODI pointed out that, except EAC and the Caribbean, regional integration has been undermined by EPAs. This is mainly a problem in southern and eastern Africa. In southern Africa, the only functioning custom union has been split up and the SADC EPA can de facto not be enforced. However, if neither the EU nor South Africa choose to act accordingly the region can just ‘live in sin’.
- Oxfam International pointed out that many African countries did not have the time to analyse the texts and did not fully comprehend what they signed due to serious lack of capacities. CRNM emphasises that limited capacities are not a problem per se. “CRNM prepared not only with respect to EPAs but also studied the “Global Europe Strategy’ revealing Europe’s interest in improved market access for goods, service, public procurement in large developing countries such as Brazil and India. Though painful compromises, such as the MFN clause, had to be accepted the region also achieved a lot and is, all in all, happy with the outcome. “It’s a negotiation process and not a walk in the park.”
- CRNM called for ‘evidence-based’ information on EPAs and questioned the limitation of “policy space” in EPAs. Policy space would often be used as excuse to do nothing. Caribbean used ‘new generation issues’ such as data protection and competition policy to defend their interests. Other controversial negotiation issues (such as environment, public procurement and social issues) do not comprise bindings that go beyond what the region has agreed in any event and focuses on cooperation issues and technical assistance.
Europe’s new trade deals with developing countries – Economic Partnership Agreements – are controversial. The EU says EPAs will strengthen regional trading blocs and increase competitiveness. Some Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Countries that signed the Lomé Convention accuse the EU of forcing them to open up their markets, threatening their nascent industries. How will EPAs affect Africa? Who are the winners and losers?