Dalleau, M. 2012. EPA Update. GREAT Insights, Volume 1, Issue 9. November 2012. Maastricht: ECDPM
11th ACP-EU Joint Ministerial Trade Committee held in Brussels
A weeklong meeting of Senior trade officials and ACP Ministers of Trade took place during the third week of October at the ACP house in Brussels, culminating in a ACP-EU Joint Ministerial Trade Committee on Friday 26th. Chaired by Fiji, the meeting’s agenda focused on several issues chosen for their importance to ACP-EU trade ties: the EPAs, the European Commission’s Communication on Trade, Growth and Development, EU negotiations with third parties, commodity-specific questions, WTO issues, and plurilateral agreements.
On the first point, Fiji’s Attorney-General and the Minister for Industry and Trade, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, called for ACP states to show unity and “put forward innovative but pragmatic solutions to resolve the outstanding issues and conclude negotiations on a Comprehensive EPA for the benefit of all.” (1) The ACP secretariat reportedly updated the 260 delegates on the latest developments on the “deadline” put on MAR regulation 1528/2007, initially set at 2014 by the European Commission, later amended by the European Parliament to 2016, amendment that the Council has rejected (2) . As GREAT reported last month, European institutions will seek a compromise date, something the ACP Group will keep a close eye on.
The ACP side also reiterated its concerns regarding the EU’s pursuit of bilateral agreements. The Fijian minister called for ‘impact studies’ to be conducted on specific products whose liberalization with third countries is likely to harm the preferences enjoyed by the ACP. Karel de Gucht, European Commissioner for Trade, assured the ACP that these concerns were being taken into account (3) .
On another note, the WTO Director General, Pascal Lamy, delivered a speech to ACP Ministers, praising the Group’s instrumental role at the WTO, and stressing areas of interest to the ACP at the WTO.
Eastern and Southern Africa: Inaugural Committee meeting held
The first Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) EPA Committee gathered in Brussels on October 19th. Four countries in the ESA grouping have signed Interim EPAs: the Seychelles, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Mauritius. The first two have already ratified the agreements, while Madagascar and Mauritius are provisionally applying it. The Customs Cooperation Committee and the Joint Development Committee also met for the occasion.
Two issues of importance for the region were discussed; cumulation rules and derogations for canned Tuna loins, which some ESA countries are reportedly experiencing trouble with, and EPA related development support for the region. The next meeting is scheduled for early 2013.
Pacific ACP Region and European Commission meet for formal EPA negotiation after 3 years lapse
As we reported in these columns last month, the Pacific ACP (PACP) EPA grouping and their EU counterparts had agreed to meet from 1-5 October, their first formal EPA negotiations meeting since September 2009.
The Pacific side came to the meeting with its revised marked access offer, the EU having responded to the region’s initial offer a couple of months earlier. All twelve PACPs have submitted conditional market access offers. Both sides have agreed to set up working groups to deal with remaining issues, amongst which trade in goods, rules of origins and cumulation, fisheries and development cooperation.
It should be noted that a key issue for PACPs throughout the negotiations has been rules of origin for fish products and related fisheries questions. The global sourcing provision, allowing the export of processed fish to the EU under preferential rates, even if the raw fish is of foreign provenance, is a key question.
CARIFORUM and EU hold Joint Council in Brussels
The fifteen CARIFORUM States and the EU held the second Joint EPA Council, the highest institutional body set up by the agreement on October 30th in Brussels. Last month’s Trade and Development Committee set the backdrop to the meeting, as reported in these columns. Items up for discussions included, amongst others, slow implementation of the agreement by countries in the region, missed deadlines and requests to amend provisions on certain goods in the agreement, and several areas of concerns to CARIFORUM states.
The meeting did not come to any settlement on the latter question, which concerns the request made by Trinidad and Tobago to amend some provision of the agreements on tariff cuts on paper product on motor parts. Trinidad and Tobago claims the dispositions present in the agreement are erroneous, and do not reflect their understanding of what had been agreed previously. The item will remain on the agenda of future meetings.
CARIFORUM states voiced several additional areas of concerns. Caribbean states contend that some of their exports to French Islands in the region attract higher taxes then similar goods from EU Member States and other countries. The tax in question, the ‘Octroi de Mer’, is allowed under the agreement, the question seems to be whether it is applied in a non-discriminatory and transparent manner. The EU and CARIFORUM states vowed to cooperate to resolve the matter.
The reduction of EU aid to middle income countries, referred to as the ‘differentiation’ principle, also attracted criticism for the Caribbean states. If applied to the Caribbean, the principle could lead to significant cuts in EU support. The region argues that the vulnerability of the countries in the region is not reflected by measures relying solely on income per capita measurements (4) .
In other news, St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas announced in an interview on a local radio that the nation would seek an extension for the implementation of tariff cuts foreseen in the agreement, citing fears of revenue losses (5) .St. Kitts and Nevis has yet to start implementing tariff reductions. It is unclear if the matter was raised during the Joint Council.
Also in other news, the EC recently announced a proposal on removing Schengen visa requirements for travellers from 16 island states, five of which are Caribbean states – Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago (6). This follows longstanding criticisms from some actors in the region, which argued that the stringent and lengthy process to obtain Schengen visas compromised the commitments made by the EU regarding the free movement of service providers. The proposal is now in the hands of the council and the parliament. It is unclear if other CARIFORUM states will eventually be consider for the “visa waiver”.
This article was published in Great Insights Volume 1, Issue 9 (November 2012)