EUX.TV | May 15, 2007
EU vows to press ahead with free trade deals with ACP states
Brussels (dpa) — The European Union on Tuesday vowed to press ahead with efforts to eliminate tariffs and quotas on imports from African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states, arguing that the deals were needed to open up markets in poor nations.
"We must create regional markets, ... poor countries need bigger regional markets," German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek- Zeul said after a meeting with her EU counterparts and minister from more than 30 ACP states.
Aid agencies have cautioned that many ACP countries were not yet ready to sign up to free trade deals — known as economic partnership agreements — and were also rightly concerned about the implications of new rules in areas such as investment and government procurement.
But the German minister, whose country currently runs the rotating EU presidency, said that negotiations on the new trade deals must be completed by the end of the year. She also said that poor nations would be given long transition periods up to 25 years to open up their markets to EU goods.
The wide-ranging EU trade offer to remove tariffs and quota on ACP goods includes demands that the 77 ACP states open up their markets to EU goods — but over a longer period, giving the countries time to adapt to free trade.
Wieczorek-Zeul’s comments came after EU member states Tuesday agreed to open up their wealthy markets fully to imports from former colonies with phased-in access for rice and sugar. However, they did not decide on when to open the banana market.
EU and ACP countries will meet on May 25 in Brussels for negotiations on the new trade deals. The current agreements expire at the end of this year.
Leading aid agency Oxfam has criticised the EU for a lack of flexibility in negotiating the free trade deals, warning against a hasty liberalization of trade in ACP states.
EU officials also insist that the new arrangement was needed to comply with World Trade Organization demands that free trade deals be based on a reciprocal lowering of restrictions.
The current Cotonou Agreement does not demand market-opening reciprocity from poor nations. The World Trade Organization has said it must be replaced by a more modern trade pact by the end of 2007.