ECDPM Preliminary Overview of EPA Review Process

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    Warning and acknowledgments

    This draft paper aims to inform and facilitate exchanges among concerned stakeholders on the current review of the negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, as foreseen in Article 37(4) of the Cotonou Partnershiip Agreement (CPA).. Since the EPA Review is still ongoing in most six ACP groupings negotiating an EPA, this paper is based on limited and incomplete information available to ECDPM at the time of writing. The views expressed are those of a number of key stakeholders in each region, but may not reflect the official position of the region; nor does it reflect the views of ECDPM. 


    The EU and the ACP started negotiating a new trade regime in 2002 with the intention of concluding Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by the end of 2007. Regional-level negotiations on EPAs between the EU and 6 ACP regional configurations have been formally underway for about 2-3 years. Some regions have made considerable advances on the substantive trade negotiations, while other regions stumbled on principles and fundamental issues with the European Commission (EC), which has made progress more difficult. In this context, Article 37(4) of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) mandates the parties to undertake a formal and comprehensive review of the EPA negotiations during 2006: The Parties will regularly review the progress of the preparations and negotiations and, will in 2006 carry out a formal and comprehensive review of the arrangements planned for all countries to ensure that no further time is needed for preparations or negotiations.

    This review is meant to assess the progress made, identify the outstanding issues and challenges, and make suggestions on the way forward. At the start of 2007, it is not yet possible to draw definite conclusions because various ACP regions are at different stages of completing their reviews and the joint reviews. This is particularly true for the EPA negotiations with Central Africa and Southern Africa, where only limited, questionnaire-based reviews have become available so far. Each region has adopted its own approach to conduct the review. Most ACP regions have decided to undertake their internal review first, as a basis for the formal joint Art. 37(4) review with the EC. The internal regional reviews have been carried out either by regional negotiators and officials or by consultants (to ensure independence or for lack of time and capacity). In parallel, other civil society or international organizations have also produced independent assessments of the EPA negotiations. Some regions did use the review process as an opportunity to organize consultations with a wide range of stakeholders at national and regional level, while other regions have planned a presentation of the final document to civil society and private sector afterwards. The different reviews have employed different lines and methods of enquiry, and have divergent areas of focus.

    The formal Article 37(4) joint reviews are due to be completed for all regions by May 2007. ECDPM has been trying to follow the review process in all ACP regions. Based on the incomplete information gathered so far, this draft paper provides a region-by-region outline of the EPA review(s) process. ECDPM intends to publish a more comprehensive overview of the Article 37(4) reviews when the process will be completed and all relevant documents will be made available.

    The all-ACP view

    The overarching message from the review processes seem to be that the EPA negotiations have been extremely challenging so far, both in terms of process and substance. As a result, there has been only limited substantive progress in most negotiations. An extension beyond the deadline of 31 December 2007 appears necessary in many regions to satisfactorily conclude negotiations.

    The Caribbean region is perhaps the only exception to this trend. A few broadly common factors, explaining the problems and delays in the EPA negotiations, can be drawn from the review process of the various regional negotiations: Development issues Negotiators and stakeholders from all ACP regions have serious concerns regarding the ‘development dimension’ of the EPAs. They hold that if an EPA is to promote development in the ACP regions, this objective must permeate all aspects of the EPA agreement and that the EPA must be accompanied by appropriately sequenced financial support to address supply-side constraints. The ACP side also calls for measures to mitigate the adjustment costs of an EPA. In several regions, particularly Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa, the requirement for prior development of production and trading capacities has become a fundamental point of disagreement in the EPA negotiations The EC has proven reluctant to discuss these issues to the satisfaction of the ACP in the EPA negotiating sessions. In particular it has required that the issue of development financing in support of an EPA be addressed, not in the EPA negotiations themselves, but through the Regional Preparatory Task Forces (RPTF), which are supposed to link the EPA negotiations with the programming of EC development finance. To date, for the ACP regional groups, the RPTFs have not been a sufficiently strong elaboration of the development aspect of an EPA. Capacity constraints In terms of conducting the negotiations, the ACP, at regional and national level, face the challenges of a range of institutional and technical capacity constraints. Apparently, these constraints have not been sufficiently addressed under the EPA process, specifically in terms of the provision of funding, and time, for building negotiating capacity. As a result, pressing forward with substantive issues in negotiations will continue to be difficult and would likely result in unsatisfactory articulation and defence of interests on the ACP side.

    Lack of capacity has also hampered the effective consultation and involvement of civil society in the ACP regions in the EPA process, a fact which also hinders ACP negotiating positions. Regional Integration While the EPAs are supposed to foster regional integration, the approach on issues related to regional integration in negotiations is presenting serious problems for many of the ACP regional economic communities (RECs) which are conducting the EPA negotiations. These issues include: EC proposals for tariff harmonization and liberalization which cut across or pre-empt existing regional integration initiatives; a lack of consideration of the complexity and importance of the existing regional integration efforts; and pressure to negotiate on trade-related issues, such as investment and government procurement, in cases where there is little capacity or incentive at either regional or national level, to assume commitments in such areas. Added to these cross-cutting issues, the reviews of the EPA negotiations point out a range of region-specific problems and disagreements which hamper progress in the negotiations.

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