In 2000, the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, otherwise known as the ACP group, adopted the Cotonou Agreement, which is a framework treaty on trade, aid and political cooperation. It replaced the previous Lomé Convention, providing for a general set of privileged relations between the EU and the ACP countries in matters of market access, technical assistance and other issues. The objective is to facilitate the economic and political integration of the ACP countries into a liberalised world market over the next 20 years.

Under the Cotonou Agreement, the parties agreed to negotiate a separate set of free trade agreements between the EU and the participating ACP countries, tailored to six clusters of countries (West Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, Central Africa, SADC, the Caribbean and the Pacific). For the EU the EPAs are meant to be comprehensive free trade agreements, laced with rhetoric about "development" and "regional integration". For the EU, comprehensive means not just about the liberalisation of trade in goods, but also about liberalisation of services, investments and government procurement, and the strengthening of intellectual property rights, competition rules, etc.

The negotiations on these EPAs started in September 2002 and were supposed to be completed by 31 December 2007. Hence, a WTO waiver to maintain the EU’s unilateral preferential trade relations with ACP countries until that date was sought and granted. (The EU pushed "WTO compatibility" of the EPAs as a frame for the talks and ACP countries accepted it.) As the talks advanced, ACP governments became caught between a rock and a hard place. They wanted the bits of market access that the EPAs offered, but would have to pay an extremely high price in terms of loss of customs revenue, destabilisation of their economies from the expected flood of EU imports, unclear financial aid commitments from Brussels, reduced political autonomy, etc. Civil society, labour unions and business groups in the ACP countries studied the implications and came out with vigorous campaigns to stop the signing of the EPAs.

The 31 December 2007 deadline for the EPAs to be signed came and went in a flurry of drama. Only the Caribbean region concluded negotiations on a comprehensive EPA before the deadline. A number of other states — including Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire — initialled bilateral interim EPAs on goods only, to secure the continuation of their exports. Others, like Senegal, swore they would not sign until “development concerns” were seriously taken on board. Negotiations then continued to revise the interim EPAs which appeared to contain many problematic provisions; and to arrive at regional agreements. In order to put pressure on the negotiations, the EU imposed a new deadline: ACP countries which had initialled or signed (interim) EPAs but did not ratify or start to implement these agreements before 1.1.2014 would lose their preferential market access to the EU.

West African countries approved their EPA on 10 July 2014 but the agreement is yet to be ratified, facing the sustained opposition of Nigeria, the Gambia and Mauritania. Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana ratified the interim EPA in August 2016. On 7 September 2016, the EU delegation to Nigeria announced that the EPA would be fully implemented on the 1st October 2016, as scheduled, in the 13 West African countries that have signed the pact and that the EU would withdraw free access to European market enjoyed by the three resisting countries.

The Eastern African Community (EAC) and Central African blocs have experienced a similar process.

On 16 October 2014, the EAC (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) finalised the negotiations of their EPA but Burundi and Tanzania refused to sign the treaty at the Heads of State Summit in September 2016. In the meantime, Kenya and Rwanda together signed a free trade pact with the EU, in order to persuade other EAC states to follow suit.

In Central Africa, only Cameroon has broken ranks and ratified the interim EPA in 2014 and implemented it in August 2016. Cameroon has reportedly lost 51 millions of CFA francs in the first month of the EPA’s implementation.

The dynamics from these three regions is leading to a regional disintegration for the benefit of the EU that has maintained pressure on the countries all along.

On 10 June 2016, six countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), namely Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, signed the agreement. The European Parliament approved it on 14 September 2016. It will open gradually and partially these countries’ markets to EU exports. It was provisionally implemented on 10 October 2016.

A state of play as of September 2016 (updated from Marc Maes’ contribution of February 2014) is provided below:

EU-ACP sub-group status of agreement
Caribbean • full EPA initialed in Dec 2007 and signed in October 2008 (and December 2009 by Haiti) and approved by the European Parliament (March 2009). Ratification still pending in most Caribbean and EU states. Caribbean countries experience difficulties with the implementation of the EPA.
Central Africa • interim EPA initialled (Dec 2007) and signed by Cameroon only (January 2009), approved by the European Parliament (June 2013)
• 7 countries have not initialled anything yet
• Cameroon implemented the interim EPA (August 2016)
West Africa • interim EPA initialled (Dec 2007) and signed by Cote d’Ivoire (Nov 2008) and approved by the European Parliament (March 2009)
• interim EPA initialled by Ghana (Dec 2007)
• 13 countries have signed the EPA (Nigeria, the Gambia and Mauritania have refused)
• interim EPA ratified by Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire (Aug 2016)
East Africa • interim EPA initialled by Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar, Zambia (Nov-Dec 2007) and signed by Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar only (August 2009). Zimbabwe and Seychelles have in the meantime ratified the agreement while Madagascar and Mauritius have notified provisional implementation; as a result this is the first and until now only African (interim) EPA for which implementation has begun. The European Parliament has approved this interim EPA in January 2013. Mauritius signed in 2015 the Joint Undertaking on Administrative Cooperation for the Implementation of the Cumulation Provisions contained in the EPA
• interim EPA initialled by East African Community members Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda (Nov 2007)
• Kenya and Rwanda signed a free trade pact with the EU (September 2016)
Southern Africa • interim EPA initialled by Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Mozambique (Nov-Dec 2007) and signed by Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique only (June 2009)
• EPA signed by Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Mozambique and South Africa on 10 June 2016
• EPA ratified by the European Parliament on 14 September 2016
   • EPA provisionally implemented on 10 October 2016
• Angola has an option to join the agreement in the future but has reportedly dropped out of the process
Pacific • interim EPA initialed by Papua New Guinea and Fiji (Nov 2007) and signed (July 2009) and ratified (February 2011) by Papua New Guinea only.
• 13 countries have not initialled anything yet

See also the state of play produced by the EU Commission:

last update: October 2016

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  • ACP Secretariat webpage on EPA negotiations
  • Africa-Europe: What alternatives?
    A meeting of networks, researchers, NGOs and civil society groups in Lisbon, 7-9 December 2007
    Site web de la CEDEAO sur l’APE Afrique de l’Ouest-Union Européenne
  • Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery
    Speeches from the Signing Ceremony of the CARIFORUM-EC EPA
  • EPA Watch
    This website, run by an NGO in Belgium, is meant as an instrument to monitor the trade negotiations between the European Union and the ACP countries which will take place between 2002 and 2008 with the aim of concluding Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).
  • EPA Watch EU
    CSO news and activities around Economic Partnership Agreements
  • EPA-07
    Information and co-ordination for the international campaign against the EU-ACP EPAs in 2007
  • European Commission webpage on EPA negotiations
  • European Research Office
    ERO is a not for profit non governmental research unit specialising in the analysis of issues faced in Southern Africa’s trade, aid and agricultural sector relations with the European Union (EU).
    Complete dossier on the CARIFORUM-EU EPA, including Text of the Agreements, critical analysis of its provisions, news items and citizens initiatives to Renegotiate the EPA
    The Pacific Regional Economic Integration Programme (PACREIP) enhances the capacity of Pacific ACP States to support regional economic integration, preparation and conduct of negotiations of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), as well as the effective operation of the Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA).
    Plateforme Haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif, en lutte contre les APE
  • Price WaterhouseCoopers SIA of the EPAs
    Price WaterhouseCoopers was contracted by the European Union to produce a ’Sustainability Impact Assessment’ of the new Economic Partnership Agreements between the ACP & the GCC States and the EU
    This website aims to facilitate a large coalition of ACP and EU civil society organisations aiming at stopping the EU’s current approach in negotiating free trade agreements with the countries of the ACP.
  • The EPA Exposed
    Under the EPAs we are about to become the consumers to a master-supplier in a master servant relationship.
  • Tralac - EPAs website
    tralac’s website on the EPA negotiations