Brussels, 25 June 2015/ ACP: Ministers and trade officials from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries gathered in Brussels to prepare for the ACP-EU Joint Ministerial Trade Committee on Friday, 26 June, where they will hold discussions with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and other high level representatives from the European Union.
The agenda will feature critical topics, including the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and various ACP regions; trade regime issues such as EU negotiations with third parties (especially with the United States), non-tariff measures and commodities; trade aspects of the post-2015 development agenda; and WTO matters.
In addition to preparing for the ACP-EU joint ministerial meeting, the ACP Ministerial Committee also discussed how to enhance intra-ACP trade relations, by building upon the recently launched Tripartite Free Trade Area (which includes countries in Eastern and Southern Africa who are members of the regional organisations COMESA, EAC and SADC) as well as the negotiations for a Continental African Free Trade Area, launched earlier this month by the African Union Summit.
They also reviewed a Joint Undertaking on Administrative Cooperation to allow cumulation in the rules of origin.
Economic Partnership Agreements
In opening the ACP ministerial meeting, the Secretary General of the ACP Group, Dr. Patrick Gomes stated that:
“As we move ahead with EPA negotiations for the remaining ACP States and regions, and as 49 of our states start or continue to implement the EPAs, the importance of the present meeting of the Joint Ministerial Trade Committee cannot be over-emphasized.”
The negotiations for the EPAs have been ongoing since the early 2000’s for the various regions. The original aim of the agreements was to liberalise trade between ACP countries and the EU while ensuring the sustainable development of the ACP countries in the process.
Today, only the Caribbean region has signed a full comprehensive regional trade deal which it is already implementing. The Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the East African Community (EAC) managed to complete their EPA negotiations in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA), Central Africa and the Pacific regions have not yet concluded negotiations, although some countries have individually agreed to interim arrangements while awaiting full regional EPAs. Areas of divergences with the EU touch on, market access offers, transition periods, non-execution clause and the development provisions.
The Ministers are expected to issue a declaration on EPAs at the end of their meeting, underscoring the view that EPAs must be, first and foremost, true development instruments that facilitate regional integration, and not simply liberalisation agreements.
TTIP effects
The Secretary General further noted the ACP Group’s concern that preferences granted to ACP countries under the EPAs are being continually eroded by free trade agreements between the EU and other non-ACP countries and regions.
“It will soon reach a point where tariff advantages under the EPAs are completely wiped out because of concessions granted to third parties,” he said.
“A more serious development relates to the rise of the so-called mega regional trading arrangements. The negotiations between the European Union and United States of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is causing consternation to the ACP Group.”
It was emphasised that if agreed, TTIP will have the effect of “trade diversion” resulting from the removal of market entry barriers between the EU and USA, at the expense of previous suppliers from other countries. ACP States will no doubt be affected.
The challenges of complying with the higher standards to be harmonised between the EU and the US will increase for the ACP Group.
Tax jurisdictions black list
Much concern was raised amongst the ministers involving the publication of a Communication by the European Commission on a “Fair and Efficient Corporate Tax System in the European Union.”
The document lists 30 countries purported to be “non-cooperative tax jurisdictions”. Of these, 15 ACP states have been blacklisted. These countries were not consulted ahead of the publication of the list by the European Commission.
“There is no doubt that such publication will cause damage to the financial sectors of these ACP States, most of which are service- dependent economies. This is a serious issue and there is need for appropriate consultations on this subject with our European Partners,” stated the Secretary General.
The ACP Trade Ministerial Committee is set to finalise a declaration on the issue after concluding their meeting on the 26th June.
(Photo: Minister of Trade of the Republic of Guinea H.E. Marc Yombuono chaired the ACP Ministerial Committee and co-chaired the ACP-EU Joint Ministerial Trade Committee)
– ACP Press