By Catherine Sasman
The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) currently under negotiation between the European Union (EU) and the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are designed to take trading relationship based on dependency and turn it into one based on economic diversification and growing economies said EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, and EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel in an open letter.
“By assisting with the creation of regional markets and accompanying the sometimes difficult adjustments these entail, the EU is standing by the side of its ACP partners in their drive to adapt to the challenges of globalisation,” the two EU commissioners wrote.
They continued: “These negotiations are certainly not about EU companies and investment muscling into these markets. In fact, if we exclude South Africa, we trade less with all Sub-Saharan Africa than we do with South Korea alone. The problem is that EU businesses and investors have too little interest in these markets, not that they have too much.”
The EPA negotiations are to be concluded at the end of this year and the agreements are set to be binding to the various players by the beginning of next year.
SADC members, arguing that they are being hastened into signing the agreements, have heavily criticised the deadline.
Mandelson and Michel said the EU is not steamrolling ACP regions into completing the negotiations this year.
“[On] the contrary, we are doing everything in our power to be as flexible as we can,” they said, adding: “Unless we agree on new WTO-compatible arrangements, we will have to fall back on our default preference scheme for all developing countries, the Generalised System of Preferences. This has less generous tariff rates than our current scheme. And unlike an EPA, it will not help ACP countries build regional markets, improve product standards or promote investment.”
The EPAs are to replace the trade chapters of the Cotonou Agreement when trade preferences of this agreement expire in 2008.
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