Economic partnership agreements: European Parliament calls for less onerous conditions for ACP countries

European Parliament


Economic partnership agreements: call for less onerous conditions for ACP countries

The EU needs to reach new trade agreements with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries - known as Economic Partnership Agreements - by 1 January 2008. These would replace the current system of generalised preferences, which is incompatible with WTO rules. Given the delay in the talks and the lack of readiness on the part of the ACP countries, MEPs in the Trade Committee called in a report on Wednesday for the Commission to make the conditions for the agreements less onerous.

The three objectives of these agreements - to facilitate access for ACP products to the European market via a free-trade area, to develop South-South trade and to support the process of regional integration - are causing concern in ACP countries, so the own-initiative report, drawn up by Robert Sturdy (EPP-ED, UK) calls for the "pacing, timing and scope of liberalisation to be gradual and flexible in order to improve ACP regional integration and competitiveness."

MEPs in the committee ask for "duty-free, quota-free market access for the ACP as well as simplified, liberalised and more flexible rules of origin in EPAs that is the case under EBA [the ’Everything but Arms’ initiative]".

Safeguard mechanism and parliamentary oversight

If agreements are not reached by 1 January 2008, when the derogation granted by the WTO comes to an end, the committee asks the Commission "not to exert undue pressure and [...] to make efforts at WTO level to seek to ensure that disruption of existing ACP exports to the EU is avoided pending a final settlement." The state of advancement of the negotiations differs substantially between the various regions concerned. Talks with Central Africa, West Africa, East Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific countries are making slow progress, while the group of southern African countries has moved ahead more quickly.

To counter the effects of ending the system of non-reciprocal preferential tariffs, MEPs in the committee are calling for safeguard mechanisms to permit ACP regions to react to surges in imports from the EU, particularly of agricultural products. On the liberalisation of key services such as water, transport and energy, the report asks that this should respect the right of each country freely to regulate its public services.

The committee calls for "the ACP to bring forwards, with appropriate EU-assistance where required, detailed, costed proposals of how and for what additional EPA-related funds are needed, particularly with regard to: regulatory frameworks, safeguard measures, trade facilitation, support in meeting international SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) and IP (Intellectual Property) standards, the composition of the EPA monitoring mechanism."

Finally, the report calls for the creation of a Parliamentary Oversight Committee on EPAs, to be made up of EU and ACP parliamentarians, which would meet alongside the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, rather than as a separate institution.