The EU-ACP Cotonou Partnership Agreement (hereafter Cotonou) was signed in 2000 for a period of 20 years, with revisions allowed every five years. Such a regular update is needed to keep the Agreement relevant in a rapidly changing international and ACP-EU context. Cotonou is now quickly approaching its second revision, due to take place in 2010. Both the ACP and the EU started preparations in the first half of 2008. The European Commission established an inter-service Task Force, with discussions between EU member states on the European draft negotiating mandate scheduled for the last quarter of 2008. The ACP have also started their own internal reflections on the revision and asked a group of ambassadors to lead this process with the ACP Secretariat.
BRUSSELS, May 7 (IPS) - The exposure of the European Commission's (EC) manufacturing of African business support for the contentious economic partnership agreements (EPAs) has so far elicited little action by members of the European Parliament. This is despite these revelations being acknowledged as “scandalous“. On March 23 the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) revealed that it was the EC that in fact orchestrated what was officially called “African business-driven support“ for the EPAs. The CEO is an independent watchdog group working to expose the influence enjoyed by corporations in European Union (EU) policy making.
On 28 April 2009, foreign ministers from the European Union and African Union have met in Brussels to assess progress on the Joint Africa EU Strategy (JAES) adopted in Lisbon in December 2007. A week earlier, on 20 April, a session of the EU–AU Human Rights Dialogue was held in Brussels. European and African leaders have committed to civil society participation in these processes but these commitments remain largely unfulfilled, with information hard to come by and access still disputed. Nevertheless, civil society in Africa and Europe should be gearing up to engage in these debates – important issues will be on the table for discussion by our leaders.
African Trade Union ministers called on the African Group in the World Trade Organization (WTO), in collaboration with other members, to intensify efforts towards appropriately amending Article XXIV of GATT 1994. The intent is to allow necessary Special and Differential Treatment provisions, as well as the less than full reciprocity principle, and explicit flexibilities that are consistent with the asymmetry required to make the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) development oriented.
This would be in line with the EPA declaration, which was adopted at the African Trade Union meeting on 16-20 March 2009. The ministers also called on the European Commission to show greater flexibility in its position during the negotiations of full and comprehensive EPAs.
The European Commission has pledged EUR 115million for an ambitious project to improve infrastructure and remove regulatory barriers to trade in Eastern and Southern Africa.
In between meetings on one particularly busy recent Friday morning, the Kenyan Ministry of Trade’s Bernard Kagira took an hour to share cocktail sandwiches and the status of Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations with a group of concerned Kenyans. The focus of the meeting was a new research paper detailing the myriad inabilities of East African states to meet European Union (EU) technical trade standards.
To help developing countries weather the economic crisis, the European Commission presented a number of measures, essentially prepayments, but which will only be a stopgap solution if the member States fail to keep their promises to increase public development assistance (PDA) by 2010.
EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton called for a continued push on trade facilitation to help developing countries, especially in Africa, reap the benefits of global trade. In remarks delivered to a conference in Rome entitled 'The role of Trade Facilitation: promoting market integration with a focus on Africa', Commissioner Ashton argues that "cumbersome, outdated bureaucracies and infrastructure stifle trade and entrepreneurship, discourage investment and encourage corruption." Small and medium-sized enterprises are particularly vulnerable, she added. The solution, according to Ashton, is for developed and developing countries to work together to simplify trade procedures, which will reduce delays, cut costs, improve the services offered to consumers, and help many companies get into overseas markets in the first place.
European and West African negotiators met in Abuja (Nigeria) from 24 to 27 March to discuss the way ahead in "full" Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations. Good progress was made on trade in goods, dispute settlement, general exceptions, institutions, and final provisions. Positive discussions were also held on the market access offer from West Africa, and on rules of origin. Services were also on the agenda. Next round will take place in Brussels on 20-24 April and will focus on development cooperation aspects, but also on market access and the text of the EPA.
The President, John Evans Atta Mills has criticised certain clauses in the Draft Economic Partnership Agreement claiming it is meant to allow European countries dump their cheap and highly subsidised goods and services on Ghana. In his view, it is unacceptable for Ghana to fully open its market to the European Union to take over both the wholesale and the retail markets to the detriment of Ghanaians. "Why should we open our market for huge tonnes of rice to be imported at very low tax rate?” he quizzed.