Roquefeuil, Q. de. 2013. EPA update. GREAT Insights, Volume 2, Issue 5. July-August 2013. Maastricht: ECDPM
Joint ACP-EU council of ministers held in Brussels
ACP ministers met their EU counterparts on June 6th and 7th in the Belgian capital, to discuss, amongst others, EPA negotiations and the next tranche of EDF funding for the 2014-2020 cycle.
The ACP group appeared largely satisfied for the outcome of the EDF talks: €31.586 bn allocated to the 11th EDF and a ‘bridging facility’ between the 10th and 11th EDF; however, it remains disappointed by the EU’s decision to set 2014 as a “deadline” on MAR 1528 for the ratification and implementation of Interim EPAs (IEPAs) (1). Interestingly, in its press release on the matter, the co-president of the ACP-EU Council of Minsters, Botswana’s Foreign Affairs Minister Hon. Phandu Skelemani, also linked “differentiation” of EDF funding to CARIFORUM states’ EPA implementation capacity, saying “The region is urging the EC to step up engagement on the remaining aspects of the negotiations which include a development cooperation chapter.” (2) He also called for unity between LDCs and non-LDCs in order to safeguard regional integration. While the former benefit from the EU’s Duty Free Quota Free (DFQF) Everything But Arms (EBA) regime, the latter do not, which has caused some splits in EPA negotiations.
Nevertheless, the press release noted that the ACP took it as “a sign of appeasement” that the EU’s amendment to MAR 1528, widely described as a “deadline” to EPA negotiations, was qualified by the EU Commissioner for Development, Andris Pielbags, as concerning only the signature, provisional application and ratification of interim EPAs, and not the on-going EPA negotiations, as pointed out by DG Trade during the JPA (see below).
Joint Parliamentary Assembly issues declaration on EPAs
The ACP-EU Joint Assembly’s (JPA) resolution on EPAs (3) is the outcome of a fine balancing act, with EU-ACP differences and among parliamentarians coming to light during debates. As a result, the resolution does not make any strong statement regarding EPAs. The outcome was criticized and described by the European United Left – Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) as “not representing the real majority in the Assembly”. The statement decried “the abusive use of the separate chambers mechanism by the EPP and ALDE”. (4)
With the split between LDCs and non-LDCs widening because of the MAR 1528 deadline, notably in West Africa, some wondered what hope would be left for on-going regional EPA negotiations if non-LDCs went ahead and ratified their individual EPAs.
DG Trade restated its position that it has demonstrated great flexibility in the conduct of the negotiations, and held that political commitments and choices were now key to make to negotiations go forward. In this light, the EU trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht will travel to Africa during the summer.
In other news, Peter Thompson is retiring in July 2013 from his position as Director of the “Sustainable Development; Economic Partnership Agreements-African, Caribbean and Pacific; Agri-food and Fisheries” directorate at DG Trade.
DG Trade “waiting for a revised Market Access offer”
No joint negotiating session has been held between the EC and ECOWAS since April 2012, where the negotiation broke down on, inter alia, Market Access issues (5).
Since then, the region has been held up mostly on domestic regional trade policy issues, finalizing its Common External Tariff (CET) and trade defense instruments. It has also, at the same time, has worked at the technical level on a revised Market Access offer, as we reported back in January. Whether the “revised” market access offer will stand at 70% or, as previously reported, at 75% as per the outcome of the meeting held in Banjul on May 6th, will likely be a political decision
At the ACP-EU JPA, Mr. Thompson from DG Trade indicated he was “awaiting a new Market Access Offer shortly”, and hoped the negotiations would move swiftly thereafter. The European Commission has re-iterated that, in their view, 80% over 25 years was a “very generous” interpretation of the WTO’s “substantially all trade” requirement, and implied that lowering the bar from this threshold could invite a WTO challenge.
Harsh words between Pacific and EU ahead of negotiating session, EC observes “substantial change” in Pacific position
In an ironic turn of events, the PACPs have put their own “deadlines” on the EPA process. The Pacific region has sent a strong worded letter to EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht ahead of its meeting with DG Trade’s negotiating team. Said Dr Viliami Uasike Latu, Tonga’s Minister for Commerce, Tourism and Labour, and Pacific ACP (PACP) Lead Spokesperson on EPA negotiations:
“We have done everything possible. But there seems to be no end to the question and answer session […] We have a clear directive from our Leaders to conclude negotiations on a comprehensive EPA as a single region before the end of this year. […] We will be submitting our final report to our Leaders at their meeting in September 2013 and I am afraid that if no tangible progress is made before then – this could be the end of our 10-year long negotiating process”. (6)
The Minister appeared to be referring to Fiji Minister of Trade Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who had declared at a Pacific Ministers of Trade meeting in May (7) that a further extension of negotiations would be “intolerable by the Pacific”.
He also could have been putting pressure ahead of a negotiating session, currently taking place. The Pacific had already been critical of the alleged lack of responsiveness of the EC, publically saying they were feeling “mistreated”.
Shortly after the letter went public, DG Trade’s Peter Thompson was interviewed by a local radio station, during which he explained that demands from PACPs to extend the concessions given to Papua New Guinea (PNG) on canned tuna could only be matched by commitments from PACPs on sustainable fishery practices. “They have asked to go into products that go beyond Tuna, and asked for reducing the amount of work that would be added”, he said referring to request by PACPs to go extend the Global Sourcing in Tuna provisions found in the PNG Interim EPA, both in terms of goods covered and in the Rules of Origin. During the 25th JPA meeting (see above), Mr Thompson further observed that the Pacific had “substantially changed” its negotiating position, but it is unclear if he referred to these requests.
He went on to explain that conservation measures were a red line for the European Parliament (EP), and that without strong provisions on sustainable fisheries in the agreement, it would stand little chance of being approved by the EP. Other EU member states, like Spain, are wary of opening the European market in canned fish to competitors. “These details, we absolutely need to thrash out –and so far, frankly, we haven’t” he added. PACP countries maintain that sustainable fisheries guarantees should be provided through the usual multilateral channels, not by a bilateral agreement.
“We don’t have a time limit, it is the Pacific who has a time limit (…) with the number of issues in front of us, I do not see this as being a few month’s work”. Mr Thomson did add, however, that PACPs could opt to join the PNG agreement should a regional EPA fail. “Several countries have flagged that to me privately” he added.
1. OECD (2011). Trade for Growth and Poverty
3. See http://www.acp.int/category/story-type/press-releases
This article was published in Great Insights Volume 2, Issue 5 (July-August 2013)