Are EPAs still on the African Agenda?
The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) date back to the signing of the Cotonou Agreement (the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement) in 2000. Since that time, it has been the framework for the EU’s relations with 79 countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). The trade chapter of the Agreement reflects the need for a new trade relationship with the EU and the conclusion of legal instruments reflecting the expiry of non-reciprocal preferences at the end of 2007. It affirms the role of the EPAs as WTO compatible instruments which should boost economic development and integration into the world economy. Good governance would be gained as part of the journey.
There have been intensive negotiations with groups of African states to conclude specific EPAs, but progress has been slow and implementation has been unimpressive. Overall the EPAs do not live up to the original expectations. Why has this been such an arduous journey? Has the time arrived for an honest re-assessment of the validity of the aims and objectives, the approach towards delivery, and the impact of global and regional developments since the original negotiations started 17 years ago? The world is a different place now.
From the viewpoint of what modern trade agreements should provide for, the scope of African EPAs looks decidedly outdated. They cover only trade in goods, despite evidence that the real new gains lie in areas such as services (and the synergies between services and trade in goods), trade facilitation, and better governance.
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