EPA Light at End of Tunnel?

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By Emma Kakololo

WINDHOEK

Proposals made by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) on the ongoing Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) could today see the light of day.

The confederations recently prepared a joint statement on key issues hoping that their proposals would be adopted at the conclusion of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting today, which is considered a crucial point in the negotiations.

In a statement, the confederations urged for an extension of the EPA negotiation period beyond the current deadline of December 31 this year, while failure to meet that deadline should not lead to the precipitate end of current trade preference arrangements under the Cotonou Convention, “which needs to be maintained while negotiations continue just as they were on the last occasion that a WTO waiver for Cotonou arrangements expired in 2000-01”.

“In the unlikely event of any challenge at the WTO, the EU and ACP countries could argue effectively that uncertainty around the outcome of the Doha Round, coupled with the specific difficulties faced by ACP countries (including many of the poorest in the world) merit the temporary extension of Cotonou preferences.”

They urged the EU to act according to what it has been preaching since the onset of the negations, “that EPAs are proposed as a vehicle for economic development in the best interests of the ACP countries” and made its position known if it is ready to offer alternatives to ACP countries or regions that may not wish to conclude EPAs.

“Those ACP countries and regions wishing to pursue EPA negotiations should be enabled adequate time to develop their own sub-regional integration, as the EU has stated is a priority objective of EPAs, and to prepare for adjustment before the EPAs enter into effect and market access to the EU is provided.

“A time period of some 25 years could be appropriate. In this regard, it should be noted that Article XXIV of GATT specifies no stipulated time period, providing the EU and ACP countries with ample potential to refute any hypothetical challenge at the WTO.”

The confederations proposed for the EU to be consistent with its stated position acknowledging the poverty and development challenges facing ACP countries, and that a greater degree of non-reciprocity needs to be offered to ACP countries negotiating EPAs.

Furthermore, they proposed for a level of coverage of 60 percent of import of goods by ACP countries (at the end of any transition period as referred to above and implemented gradually while allowing for the use of adequate safeguards); to allow ACP countries freedom to decide, without pressure, whether they wish to enter into commitments in areas such as services, intellectual property, investment and other such “WTO+” issues; confirm its commitment to providing increased development assistance to enable ACP countries to adjust to the reduced tariff revenues and other costs that would result from entering EPAs, without reduction in other forms of assistance and accompanied by further aid to build supply side capacities and infrastructure; and a need for a strong social chapter to give effect to Article 50 of the Cotonou Convention.

All EPA negotiations should take place under conditions of greatly increased transparency, with a possibility for public consideration of draft proposals and on the basis of formal consultations with recognised social partners and other representative civil society organisations.

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