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EU's First EPA With African Countries Goes Into Effect

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

16 May 2012

The interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union (EU) and four Eastern and Southern African states, Mauritius, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Zimbabwe, went into effect on May 14, 2012.

The interim EPA provides import duty and quota free access to the EU market for exports from those countries, and, in turn, they will gradually open their markets to European exports over the course of 15 years, with exceptions for certain products the countries consider sensitive.

Furthermore, the agreement covers provisions on rules of origin, development cooperation, fisheries, trade defence instruments and dispute settlement. It is said therefore that it is an improvement for Mauritius, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Zimbabwe on the unilateral duty and quota free regime they enjoyed so far because it encourages regional integration and strengthens a partnership approach with the EU.

In 2000, under the Cotonou Agreement, African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the EU opted for a more ambitious trade and development relationship covering not just trade in goods, but also services, trade-related rules and development co-operation.

Negotiations for such comprehensive trade and development agreements as set out in the Cotonou Agreement started in 2002. However, it became clear towards the end of 2007 that it would not be possible in all ACP regions to finalize negotiations before the end of the Cotonou trade regime on December 31, 2007.

A series of interim EPAs were therefore concluded to minimize any possible trade disruption for ACP partners arising from the expiry of the Cotonou trade regime while maintaining progress towards comprehensive regional agreements. While each interim EPA went through the domestic approval process, the countries retained duty and quota free access to the EU.

At the end of 2007, Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Zambia and Zimbabwe concluded an interim EPA with the EU. The four countries went ahead and signed it in August 2009 in Mauritius. These four countries have now taken and completed steps towards ratification or notified application, so that the agreement can be applied. Once all parties ratify, including all EU member states, the agreement will officially enter into force.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said: "Our first interim EPA with an African region is applied. With this trade deal we hope to accompany the development of our partners in Eastern and Southern Africa and open up better and lasting business opportunities."

It is therefore added that the interim EPA with Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles and Zimbabwe should be seen as a stepping stone to a wider and more comprehensive deal currently under negotiation between the EU and the whole Eastern and Southern African region.

Negotiations for a comprehensive EPA resumed at the beginning of 2008 with all countries of Eastern and Southern Africa. The objective in these negotiations is to conclude an agreement at regional level, which supports sustainable development and fosters regional integration.

It was also confirmed that EPA negotiations with other African regions have intensified over the last year. Recently, progress has been made at technical level with the East African Community and West Africa. The EU believes there are real prospects for concluding the deals during 2012 in many African regions.

TAGS: tax | Mauritius | Zimbabwe | trade treaty | Madagascar | agreements | import duty | trade | European Union (EU) | Seychelles | Europe

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