Reuters | 3 October 2007
EU, Pacific countries to seek interim trade deal
By William Schomberg
BRUSSELS (Reuters) — The European Union and Pacific countries agreed on Tuesday to seek an interim new trade deal in order to meet an end-of-year deadline to bring their commercial ties into line with World Trade Organisation rules.
The EU is in talks with nearly 80 mostly former European colonies, split into six regional groups, to get new economic partnership agreements (EPA) made by the end of the year.
That is when existing preferential EU trade deals with the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries must be scrapped after the WTO found they broke global trade rules.
In a joint declaration after a ministerial-level meeting in Brussels, the EU and the Pacific countries said they agreed that "in view of the short time available until the deadline of December 31 2007, it was necessary to conclude a WTO-compatible interim agreement as a stepping stone to a comprehensive EPA."
The Pacific countries involved in the talks include Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Tuvalu.
The interim agreement would include timetables for cutting tariffs on goods, rules of origin, safeguard mechanisms for slowing sudden surges of imports plus possibly fisheries, competition and development issues, the declaration said.
The interim deal would enter into force on January 1 and the two sides would seek a final agreement, including services, by the end of 2008.
Oxfam and other poverty campaign groups say the deals will expose developing countries to fierce European competition.
But the EU says they will help ACP countries to develop their economies and build up regional markets that will be more attractive to foreign investment, and that without a deal by December 31, ACP exports will face higher EU import tariffs.
The EU’s trade and development commissioners, Peter Mandelson and Louis Michel, are due to travel to Jamaica on Wednesday for talks with countries in the Caribbean region.
Mandelson said in a statement those talks were well advanced. "As in any negotiation in its final stages, there are a number of issues which require clear political guidance to be resolved," he said.
As well as the Pacific and the Caribbean, the EU is negotiating with four regions of countries in Africa but those talks have made less progress, EU officials say.