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Sustainability and human rights in EPAs: A comparative analysis between the Caribbean and African EPAs

Discussion Paper 198

September 2016

Bilal, S., Ramdoo, I. 2016. Sustainability and human rights in EPAs: A comparative analysis between the Caribbean and African EPAs. (Discussion Paper 198). Maastricht: ECDPM.

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The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the United Nations (UN) in New York in September 2015 and of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 has put the sustainability and climate change ambitions and concerns at centre stage of the international agenda. International trade is recognised as an important means of implementation to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and specific targets. For a long time, the European Union (EU) has been committed to the promotion of human rights and sustainability, including in its international relations, and has been a strong advocate of the SDGs.

Human rights clauses in EU policy have found some of their origins in the EU partnerships with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), as articulated in the Lomé Conventions and the succeeding Cotonou Partnership Agreement. Human rights and sustainability clauses have then increasingly been introduced in the EU trade policy regime, in its general system of preferences (GSP) and its free trade agreements (FTAs), and have become one of the key pillars of the new EU trade strategy, Trade for All, introduced in October 2015.

This paper analyses the content of the sustainable development and human rights dimensions of the recently concluded EPA by the EU with the East African Community (EAC), the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and a group of countries from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and compares them with the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) EPA, the most comprehensive EPA concluded so far.

This study will be officially launched at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development on 19th October, 17:00 – 18:30. 


Key messages


  • Sustainability and human rights dimensions are at the centre stage of the international (2030 Agenda) and EU agenda, including in trade relations. These are part of recent EU FTAs and the EU-ACP EPAs, as well as EU Partnerships such as the Cotonou Agreement.
  • There are some concerns that African EPAs may not have strong enough provisions on sustainability and human rights, and that reference to the Cotonou Agreement may not be relevant after its termination in 2020.
  • While provisions on sustainability differ among EPAs, leading to some legal uncertainty, basic principles on human rights and sustainability remain valid beyond 2020. The various dimensions of EPAs should also be taken into account when considering sustainability.
  • Particular attention must be paid to institutional settings, dialogues, review and monitoring, aid and accompanying measures, multi-stakeholders approaches, responsible business initiatives, rendezvous and revision clauses, all most relevant for the sustainability impact of EPAs.

Read Discussion Paper 198


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Economic Transformation and TradeTrade Policy and Economic Partnership AgreementsDiscussion Papers (series)Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)Human rightsAfricaCaribbean