tralac Annual Conference 2006
tralac’s 2006 Annual Conference, held at the President Hotel in Cape Town on 5 and 6 October, focused on Economic Partnership Agreements.
A special relationship has long existed between the European Union (EU) and the African Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP) of countries. In 1975 the first Lomé Convention was signed and thereafter regularly updated. Today relations between the EU and ACP are governed by the Cotonou Partnership Agreement which came into force in 2000. However, this agreement did not comply with World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments and, as a result, the EU and ACP were granted a waiver until the end of 2007.
The aim now is to negotiate replacement regimes for the Cotonou Agreement, referred to as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). It is envisaged that the EPAs between the EU and ACP countries will be completed by 2008 and that these will be WTO compatible.
In order to facilitate the negotiation of the EPAs, the ACP countries have divided themselves into regional groups. There are currently six groups, two of which include countries from southern and east Africa. The “SADC-7” group is made up of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, Swaziland and Tanzania. South Africa is an observer of the SADC-7 group but recently applied to be included as a negotiating party. Members of the “ESA” group include Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The issues to be covered in the SADC-7 and ESA negotiations with the EU include the development dimensions; market access for agricultural, non-agricultural and fisheries products; rules of origin; trade facilitation and customs cooperation; sanitary and phytosanitary measures; standards and technical barriers to trade; trade in services; trade-related measures such as competition, investment and intellectual property; and legal and institutional issues. Each of these issues is complex and much debated amongst stakeholders.
Matters are complicated even further by a number of other issues that are unique to southern and east Africa. First, there is the Trade Development and Cooperation Agreement between South Africa and the EU which is now the subject of a midterm review. Second, the members of the SADC-7 and ESA groups are also members of the same and/or different trade arrangements within the region. Third, the Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative of the EU grants duty-free and quota-free access to most of the members of the SADC-7 and ESA groups.
In addition, issues relating to the status of the WTO negotiations, as well as proposed trade agreements between the Southern African Customs Union and countries such as China and India, are likely to add to the complexity of the EPA negotiations.
Against this background and in relation to these themes, tralac’s annual conference had the following objectives:
Assess the offers of the SADC-7 and ESA groups;
Consider the positions in the other EPA configurations;
Examine the EU’s approach in other regional trade arrangements;
Reflect on the EU’s development agenda;
Anticipate the EU’s response to the SADC-7 and ESA groups; and
Discuss the future strategies of the SADC-7 and ESA groups, particularly in the context of development.
In order to engage with one another on these and other issues, tralac brought together international trade lawyers and economists, policymakers and practitioners with specialist expertise on trade issues.
The conference was preceded by a separate workshop on 4 October 2006, co-hosted by tralac and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), dealing with competition provisions in regional trade agreements. The object of this workshop was to discuss whether and how these provisions can contribute towards the development of southern and east Africa.
The Annual Conference was also followed by a self-standing workshop in the afternoon of 6 October 2006, co-hosted by tralac, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) examining intellectual property provisions in regional trade agreements.