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EU and ACP Battle Against Clock To Reach Trade Deals

by Amanda Banks, Tax-News.com, London

05 November 2007


Trade ministers from the European Union and the ACP (Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific) countries will later this week attempt to move closer to new agreements that will replace the ACP members' current preferential access to EU markets.

The ACP minister will meet EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel on Friday. The ACP ministers have also scheduled a meeting with WTO Director General Pascal Lamy, who they are due to meet on Thursday, where they are expected to consider and examine a comprehensive report on the status of the Doha Development Round of negotiations with the WTO.

The meeting with the EC Commissioners will be preceded by a two-day meeting of ACP Ministers at which they will share their experiences on the negotiations, and seek to reach a common position on the issues of interest.

The EU has been offering the ACP countries 'Economic Partnership Agreements' to replace the trade chapters of the 2000 Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the ACP countries, whose exemption from WTO rules will expire at the end of 2007 after it was attacked by other countries outside the Cotonou agreement, alleging ex-colonial preference.

For the last year, Mandelson has been doing his best to parlay the conflicting interests of the ACP countries, the EU member states, the WTO's 'Aid for Trade' program and the quarrelsome European Parliament into a coherent developing country strategy. But reaching an agreement between all of these competing factions could prove to be something of a sisyphean task for Mandelson, despite the looming deadline. The ACP countries want to retain preferential access to the EU for products such as sugar and bananas, plus they want more development aid, but they don't want to liberalize their own tariff barriers; the WTO wants an end to all preferential arrangements; the EU member states want to protect their old colonies, but not to spend any more money on aid.

With less than two months before the WTO deadline, Mandelson warned in a recent article written for the UK's Guardian newspaper - entitled "This is not a poker game" - that if an agreement is not found then the EU would have to fall back on a "default preference scheme" for all developing countries, which he says is "less generous than our current scheme", although he assured that this would not mean the EU "threatening to raise tariffs" for ACP countries.

Mandelson stated that nevertheless, good progress has been made in some ACP regions, and there are signs that a full agreement could be reached by the end of the year. These would cover trade opening and regional rules in goods and services, rules of good economic governance and targeted development assistance, he revealed.

Other ACP nations have shown "less willingness to progress as far" and will need a little more time for comprehensive deals, he revealed. However, he insisted that "only a comprehensive agreement will deliver the full development potential" for these countries.


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