Partnership negotiations launched

The Economic Partnership Agreement is based on regional integration in the Southern and Eastern Africa region.

The second phase was launched on February 9 when the first one came to a close in Port Louis, Mauritius.

At the launch EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson met with Ministers from Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) for the second round of negotiations of the EU-ESA Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

A statement issued by EU in Lusaka said the talks have so far focussed on the development component of the EPA including access to the EU market, reform of rules of origin and measures to address technical barriers to trade.

Mandelson said EU was determined to help the region stabilise economically through competitiveness and the removal of unprogressive barriers.

“Eastern and Southern Africa comprises a number of the world’s most vulnerable economies.

“Our EPA has to help stabilise the region; boosting competitiveness and locking in reform. There are many hurdles to overcome, but we are on the right track.

“The challenge is to speed up and intensify talks to meet the 2007 deadline for finalising negotiations,” Mandelson told the ministers from Southern and Eastern Africa.

At the Port Louis meeting both sides agreed that the EPA is an instrument at the service of ESA countries’ development.

“To achieve that objective, a comprehensive approach is needed, tackling traditional development issues (supply side constraints) and trade issues at the same time.

“Trade related issues will help establish the regulatory framework necessary for development to happen,” reads the EU/ESA joint statement.

Taking stock of the progress they had made so far, both parties acknowledged that negotiations have been gaining momentum since September 2005.

“This momentum must be maintained and even accelerated, if the set deadline of end 2007 is to be met.”

At the meeting it was pointed out that agriculture is a key sector for the development of ESA countries.

The statement stated that the programming of financial assistance, both at national and regional level, will have to go hand in hand with the negotiation process.

Fisheries will be further discussed at technical level, on the basis of papers submitted by both sides.

Market accessibility was also one of the key areas that the meeting addressed.

According to the agreement by the two sides, rules of origin will be revised in order to simplify and make them less costly and cumbersome to implement.

On tariffs, the EC insisted that the starting point for reciprocal dismantling should be a common external tariff for the ESA EPA group. The objective is to have a single simple trade regime.

ESA indicated that they are working on various options which, however, is not a formal precondition to conclude EPA.

It was agreed that SPA should not become a technical barrier to trade but rather a tool providing ACP exporters with better access to the EU market.

“Trade defence instruments will have to be included in the EPA and it is in this area where there could be an early harvest in the negotiating process,” says the statement.

The meeting that was co-chairs by EU and Mauritius agreed that the discussions should be extended to other sectors such as trade in services, investment and trade related issue.

Other issues that were discussed include the drought affecting some ESA member countries, the implications of the reform of the EU sugar regime and the state of play of the Doha Development Round Table.

Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) are the trade and development agreements that the European Union is currently negotiating with the 6 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions which replace the trade chapters of the 2000 Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the ACP countries.

The exception of the chapters from WTO law will expire in 2008, requiring both parties to have put in place a WTO-compatible alternative.

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

Countries in Eastern and Southern African negotiating the EPA with the EU include Burundi, Comores, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe comprising about 250 million inhabitants.

Many of these countries belong to the poorest in the world while they all form part of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, which promotes regional economic integration through trade and investment and aims at creating a Customs Union by 2008.

June 2006
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