ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly

Horsens, 28 May 2012/ ACP: The Secretariat for the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States and the ACP Parliamentary Assembly have renewed calls for flexibility on trade negotiations at a major meeting with political counterparts from the European Union (EU) today.

At the 23rd session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA) in Horsens, Denmark, the President of the ACP members Hon. Musikari Kombo of Kenya demanded a withdrawal of a proposal by the European Commission to amend market access laws, which would set a deadline for ACP countries to finalise Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) or lose duty and quota-free access to EU markets.

“Since the EPA negotiations began, ACP countries have maintained and continue to maintain good faith in positions adopted on various issues. However, there are serious contentious issues that cannot be wished away and have to be dealt with if we are to conclude an EPA that is satisfactory to all the parties,” said Hon. Kombo.

If they do not take steps to ratify EPAs by 1 January 2014, 18 lower-middle income ACP members would have to start paying escalated or full duties on their imports to Europe. But countries are adamant that they are willing to use EPAs only when “contentious” issues are resolved between the two groups.

These include the large range of goods (80 – 90%) to be liberalised under EPA, the tight transition period of 15 years to implement free trade, the limitation set on ACP countries to put export taxes on their own products, as well as the lack of multilateral and bilateral safeguards on trade.

ACP Secretary General Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas appealed for an approach based on “partnership”, with a coherence between trade policies and development goals.

“We will continue with the negotiations with a view of concluding EPAs that will be development-friendly – that is, EPAs which address our supply side constraints, development constraints and infrastructure constraints which do not enable us to produce and take advantage of the big European market,” said Dr Chambas.

He added that to strengthen developing economies, EPAs should promote regional integration efforts: “[Countries] should not sign agreements which then dismember a region, creating different regimes with different countries in a common region”.

EPA talks began in 2002 to address inconsistencies between ACP-EU preferential trade and World Trade Organisation rules. EPAs aim to gradually open up reciprocal trade between ACP and EU but so far, only the one out of seven negotiating regions – the Caribbean – has concluded a full EPA. Others are at various stages of negotiations, with some countries signing or initialling bilateral agreements.

Co-President of the JPA, MEP Louis Michel (ALDE) warned against “misinformation” about EPAs and emphasised its advantages to developing countries.

The Joint Parliamentary Assembly brings together members of parliament from the 79 countries of the ACP Group with counterparts from the European Parliament twice a year to engage in frank and open political dialogue on ACP-EU cooperation.

(Pictured: 23rd ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in CASA Arena, Horsens, Denmark)

– ACP Press