Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Negotiations for a comprehensive EPA on track

By FRANCIS AYIEKO, The East African, April 2009

What developments have taken place since the deadline for concluding the EPA negotiations were extended to July this year?

The European Commission-East African Community interim economic partnership agreement on trade in goods, which we initialled in November 2007, should be signed shortly.

It should be noted, however, that the Africa Caribbean and Pacific countries that signed the interim agreement are already benefiting from improved market access to the European Union, as the European Commission is granting the agreed preferences on trade in goods since January 1, 2008. Negotiations for a comprehensive EPA continue, and good progress is being made.

Do you think this deadline will be met by developing countries in Africa?

Both the European Commission and the East African Community partner states are working hard to meet the self-imposed deadline of end of July 2009. This is not a legal deadline, just like the one we had at the end of 2007.

The only deadline we have is the one our Africa Caribbean and Pacific partners and ourselves agree to set jointly.

We are making good progress and we feel that in this region there is a good chance to conclude within the jointly agreed timeframe.

Civil society organisations and politicians in East Africa have been up in arms against the conclusion of EPA negotiations, generally saying they are not good for developing countries. What has the European Union done to address their concerns?

The European Union welcomes all contributions to the economic partnership agreement debate.

We encourage civil society representatives to participate in the formulation of national negotiating positions to ensure that their voice and concerns are heard and taken on board.

We also encourage the technical negotiators to brief their political masters and legislatures at regular intervals, just as we do in Europe.

How about the concern that the “development” aspect has not been adequately addressed by the European Union?

Development is a cornerstone of the economic partnership agreements. We believe that trade and development co-operation go hand in hand and EPAs are ultimately an instrument for development.

The aim of EPAs is not to open markets for European companies at the expense of African producers as has been wrongly claimed by some.

On the contrary, EPAs should help developing countries to build larger markets, foster trade in goods and services, and stimulate investment.

What has the European Union done so far to show its commitment to promoting development aspect of EPA negotiations?

The European Union has removed the final restrictions to ACP exports, including in sugar and bananas, and has changed the rules of origin to ensure that ACP countries can make full use of the preferences they receive.

We firmly believe that this is the way forward for development policy: enabling countries to help themselves to grow, rather than continuing to grant aid eternally in a donor-beneficiary manner.

What impact is the current global economic crisis likely to have on EPA negotiations?

At this crucial time of global economic crisis, we have to rise jointly to the development challenge.

EPAs can contribute to boost Africa’s growth: trade integration coupled with more transparent and predictable trade regimes, together with improved governance and well targeted development assistance, can in the short term cushion the negative impact of the economic crisis.

In the longer term, it can lead to sustainable growth of the regional economy.

In our view, EPAs represent an historic opportunity to make trade work for development, and integrate regional and global markets, in a virtuous circle of economic uplifting and poverty reduction.

What are the major outstanding issues in the negotiations and how do you plan to address them?

The negotiations for a comprehensive EPA include a broad and ambitious agenda. Some of these aspects are crucial for development.

Services like telecommunications, banking and construction are the backbone of a growing economy and most countries desperately need to attract foreign investment.