Yes and no.
Yes, it is time to accept that we will have no regional or comprehensive EPAs beyond those already agreed.
We have only two regional EPAs: one for the Eastern African Community and one for CARIFORUM – representing Caribbean countries. But the Caribbean countries do not have a joint regional liberalisation schedule. To date, the CARIFORUM EPA is the only one that is comprehensive, covering not only the liberalisation of trade in goods, but also a reciprocal regime for trade in services and investment as well as regulations on competition policy, public procurement, and intellectual property. Looking at other regions, we see that countries have very different views of whether to broaden their Trade in Goods EPA or not. It is a myth that pushing for services, investment and trade-related issues in an EPA promotes regional integration. The CARIFORUM EPA, for example, includes 40 different agreements on trade in services: one between each EU state and the signatory CARIFORUM countries (see my statement on this EPA).
Instead of wasting time and resources to push through a ‘comprehensive’ agenda (which is unlikely to be implemented) it would be better to be pragmatic and accept that some countries are not interested moving beyond a Trade in Goods agreement.
Which brings us to the ‘no’, and the reason why we must care about the EPAs.
No, because the European Commission and EU member states have not yet delivered what they promised in the EPAs namely ‘poverty eradication, sustainable development and the gradual integration of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States into the world economy.’ The EPAs contain a bewildering array of new legal, procedural and administrative requirements, the implications of which will take some time fully to assess. In the Caribbean, needs assessments are on-going, with countries reflecting on the coherent strategies needed to implement aid for trade effectively. No such assessments have taken place in other regions to date, even though first round needs, such as revenue losses, need urgent financing.
Funds to cover these first-round needs are, in theory, available under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF). However, to ensure that aid is given in adequate amounts to the right projects in a timely way it is important to tighten up the framework for aid to and to deal with the actual, new costs that will be created by the EPA.
The European Commission and EU Member States must commit to the immediate supply of available resources according to countries’ high-priority needs, to specify medium-term needs as soon as possible, and to monitor the delivery and effectiveness of aid.
We need to continue applying political pressure to make sure that EPAs deliver the development impact it promises. Most urgently, a start on delivering the development component of the EPAs is needed now: to monitor the provision of the first tranches of aid, based on countries’ immediate EPA needs, by the European Commission and EU Member States – because if they arrive too late they will be useless."