Contentious issues in the interim EPAs: Potential flexibility in the negotiations

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    Despite a period of intense negotiations towards interim Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) that led to the conclusion of several Interim EPAs between the EU and a number of ACP States in late 2007, a number of ACP negotiators and politicians have voiced concerns over a number of provisions appearing within the agreements that they view as ‘contentious’.

    Key Purpose of ECDPM Study

    Numerous stakeholders across a wide spectrum of backgrounds have already provided a rich commentary on contentious EPA provisions. This paper seeks to provide a synthesis of different arguments made on a selected number of them, as well as a balanced summary of justifications provided both for and against the provisions. The main focus will be on issues affecting trade in goods, rather than trade-related issues or services – although these may be equally controversial.

    This paper has attempted to review some of the issues that have been raised by various ACP negotiators in key documents and meetings, although it is important to point out that the list is neither exhaustive, nor are all the issues viewed in the same way by different ACP States. The discussion has also been limited to provisions related to trade in goods in the new agreements, not to services or trade-related issues that are being discussed within ongoing negotiations towards comprehensive EPAs, and where there are some equally contentious issues.

    Key Findings of ECDPM 

    • Both sides of the negotiations have acknowledged the existence of certain contentious issues within the agreements. Both EU member states and the new EU Commissioner for Trade have expressed a willingness to look at contentious areas and adopt a flexible approach to them in the context of future negotiations towards comprehensive EPAs.

    • It is difficult to categorise the issues themselves into different types, since they all raise particular issues and because of the variety of opinion on what are the most important and which justifications are the most relevant. Nevertheless, it is perhaps possible to discern some common arguments for and against some of the provisions.

    • While the burden of compliance with the clauses often applies to both the EU and the ACP (albeit with different transition periods or levels of commitment), the cost of adjustment falls overwhelmingly on the ACP side. This must be set against the fact that – apart from some notable improvements in the rules of origin for some products and quotas for sugar – there were few dynamic improvements in the situation of those ACP States that initialled the EPAs.

    • In most cases, the potential benefits and challenges of the EPAs in the long run do not critically hinge on the way that concerns over these contentious issues will be addressed.

    • There is potential for some flexibility on at least some of the contentious issues. The final outcome will naturally depend on the continuing negotiations – negotiators need to balance a number of interests and their judgment will, as ever, be crucial to a successful outcome.

    Read Discussion Paper 89

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