San Bilal, ECDPM paper, September 2021
It is high time for the remaining member states of the European Union (EU), who have not yet done so, to ratify the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). The first ones have already been concluded with some African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries in 2007. This is the case, for instance, for the interim EPAs with respectively Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, which are considered in this paper.
These free trade agreements have generated controversial discussions for years and may not be perfect. But they have not only maintained, but also secured and improved the preferential access of these countries to the EU, vital for some of their major exports. The EPAs have not led to the feared negative impacts that some had predicted. Their potential benefits, however, are highly dependent on the way they are used and the reform dynamics and support measures that accompany their effective implementation.
The EU, with the EPAs and beyond, intends to stimulate local and regional economic transformation pathways by stimulating domestic production and promoting value addition for local, regional, and international value chains, in particular with the EU. In doing so, increasing attention is given to sustainability, inclusive and gender dimensions, as is the case for sustainable forestry and cocoa initiatives in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Development assistance, in the form of not only traditional aid, such as technical assistance, but also blended finance and guarantees, as well as policy dialogues, multi-stakeholder engagement and improvement of the investment climate, are key pillars of the EU support.
Such a comprehensive approach is critical, not only for the implementation of the EPAs, but especially to accompany African own reform and transformation processes. This includes the African Continental Free Trade Area and other regional integration dynamics, as well as the response to the COVID-19 crisis, with the aim to build back better, greener and in a more sustainable, inclusive and gender-sensitive way.
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