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Economic Partnership Agreement EU & Central Africa

Economic Partnership Agreements: EU and Central Africa agree next phase of negotiations

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson met with Central African Ministers on the 25th November in Brussels to agree on the next phase of the Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations between the two regions. Ministers agreed to launch the next phase of negotiations in January 2006, and endorsed a detailed calendar. Work will therefore begin shortly on drafting the text and legal provisions of the EPA, in areas such as trade in goods, competition policy, public procurement, intellectual property rights, services, investment and trade and environment. The impact of the EPA on productive sectors in Central Africa will also be analysed, in order to prepare the future market access discussions. Commissioner Michel also participated in the meeting, underscoring the Commission’s commitment to helping Central Africa both manage economic change and grasp the opportunities the EPA will provide.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said: “I am convinced that this EPA will be a development tool and a model for North – South trade relations. The Commission and the Central African region have agreed an ambitious pro-development agenda which will provide an excellent platform for supporting Central Africa’s regional integration process There is already a good legal framework in the Central Africa region – most obviously, the legislation necessary for the operation of the customs union. But these laws now need to be fully implemented. The EPA will be a key tool in encouraging compliance and providing legal certainty for traders and investors. These are of great importance if we are to see investment and growth in the region. There is a lot to be done before our next Ministerial meeting if we are to complete negotiations by mid-2007 and ratify by 2008. This is a deadline I remain fully committed to.”

What are EPAs?

Economic Partnership Agreements are the trade and development agreements that the European Union is currently negotiating with the 6 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions. They will replace the trade chapters of the 2000 Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the ACP countries. The exception of these chapters from WTO law will expire in 2008, requiring both parties to have put in place a WTO-compatible alternative. The European Union has committed to ensuring that the EPAs will guarantee both the development focus and the preferential trading terms currently enjoyed by ACP countries, while complying with WTO obligations. The EU is conducting parallel negotiations with six ACP regions.

At the beginning of his tenure, EU Trade Commissioner Mandelson undertook a full review of the EPA process, putting in place a new benchmarking system and expert oversight to ensure that the EPAs are genuine development tools.

The next phase of EU – Central Africa negotiations

Central Africa was the first region, along with West Africa, to start EPA negotiations in October 2003. The Executive Secretariat of CEMAC (Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa), in collaboration with the ECCAS (CEEAC) Secretariat, is conducting negotiations on behalf of CEMAC Member States (Cameroon, Republic of Central Africa, Chad, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon), and Sao Tomé e Principe (STP). The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has also recently decided to negotiate the EPA within the Central African configuration.

Since then there have been extensive discussions on technical issues and the process of integration already underway in Central Africa. This has included discussions on customs issues, the existing CEMAC customs union, trade relations between CEMAC and Sao Tomé e Principe, EU import standards, trade in services, investment policy, competition policy, the link between trade and environmental policy, intellectual property rights, and public procurement.

This ministerial meeting agreed a calendar to begin the next phase of negotiations. This will mean starting work in 2006 on drafting the text and legal provisions of the EPA and discussing issues connected with market access, including the effect of an EPA on productive sectors in Central Africa.

Investing in development in Central Africa

Alongside the trade negotiations discussions are also taking place to determine appropriate accompanying measures which can be supported through development assistance. Although development assistance will not be part of the EPA itself, parallel to the EPA process the Commission will continue to invest heavily through the European Development Fund in development in Central Africa. Currently, these funds focus on support for regional integration, transport facilitation, and capacity building. Moreover, a particular focus will be placed on the EPA in the next programming phase (post 9th EDF).

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