EU pressures seven African countries to complete trade agreements

Botswana, Namibia, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Swaziland face paying tariffs on exports to EU

Seven African countries face paying tariffs on their exports to the EU if they fail to honour trade agreements signed with Brussels in 2007.

The European parliament granted the African countries an extension until October 2014 to ratify their interim economic partnership agreements (EPAs). 17 countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group have not ratified or implemented the agreements.

The EPA allows countries to export goods to the EU without tariffs or maximum quotas, under World Trade Organisation rules. The countries benefited from the agreement without delays to avoid disrupting exports, principally towards Europe. In a regulation, the European commission permitted the countries to maintain their privileged trade status, already upheld in the Cotonou agreement, which expired in 2007.

EU’s harder line

Since then, the EU executive has taken a harder line. In 2011, it proposed suspending the agreement if the countries did not ratify the EPA by January 2014. The parliament voted in a strong majority to extend the deadline to October 2014, in a second reading.

Botswana, Namibia, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Swaziland have not completed the agreement. They, along with the Pacific nation of Fiji, risk falling into a stricter commercial regime if they fail to meet the deadline. The others – including Haiti, Burundi and Rwanda – will be covered due to their status as least developed countries.

But some parliamentarians from the Greens and the Socialists and Democrats group felt the deadline should have been extended to January 2016 to allow more “breathing space”. The parliament had adopted that deadline in a first reading in September 2012.

WTO pressure

This time EU lawmakers voted for a compromise deal found with heads of states and government in the European council.

“Allowing unilateral and free access to certain countries is a violation of the WTO’s rules and is clearly only a temporary solution … The time has come to fix a deadline,” said British Labour MEP David Martin, who drafted parliament’s report.

“We regret that the parliament and the council of the EU did not accept our proposal to give these African countries enough breathing space in negotiations.”

Under the current agreement, the African countries benefit from very favourable terms compared with their international competitors for exports to Europe notably of certain food including bananas, tuna, beef and sugar.

Some Latin American and emerging countries have protested the exception at the WTO, labelling it as discriminatory.

Caught in the crossfire

To the secretary general of the ACP group, Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, the deadline harms the countries involved by forcing them to ratify interim EPA agreements that are counterproductive to regional integration. “The states are encouraged to trade with the EU but not among themselves,” he said.

Launched in 2002, negotiations over parallel regional EPAs are ongoing in five African subregions. They aim to liberalise the trade in goods, as well as services, investment, and market access rules. But discussions have stalled on several points, including the suspension of free trade following human rights abuses.

Ministers will meet at the WTO in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2013 in an attempt to reignite the Doha development agenda, which has aimed since 2001 to lower trade barriers and revise trade rules for developing nations. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds