Brussels, 10 June 2013/ ACP: Trade negotiations between the European bloc and the some ACP members may move closer to a resolution now, with plans for a political panel to tackle the longstanding deadlock in talks.

The move was raised at the 38th ACP-EU Joint Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels last week, and follows proposals made by the ACP Heads of State and Government Summit in December 2012.

“The [ACP Summit] decided to recommend the high level political panel, comprising of Heads of States with experts from the regions, to meet with the highest leadership of the EU to try and break the stalemate and advance the process by taking appropriate political responsibility,” ACP Secretary General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni told media at the conclusion of the joint council on 7 June.

“At this meeting we were informed that yes, the EU, in the context of its bilateral relations with the African Union has accepted to work with this idea of the high panel.”

According to EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, the European and African Union Commission Presidents had agreed that a date be set in July to discuss the issue. It is hoped that the Pacific and Caribbean will join in order to involve all parties.

ACP Resolution on trade matters

The day before the joint council, the ACP Council of Ministers passed a hard hitting resolution on the ACP-EU Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), calling for measures to soften the blow of opening free trade to the much more dominant EU. These include mitigation provisions, additional resources for EPA-related costs, maximum flexibility on all outstanding contentious issues, and safeguarding the benefits of EPAs when negotiating with other third parties. Ministers also urged the EU to jointly defend suitable liberalisation levels and timeframes at the World Trade Organisation.

The resolution further stated the ACP Council’s “utter dismay” at the decision to ignore ACP pleas on the EU Council’s Market Access Regulation 1528/2007. A deadline of 1 October 2014 has since been set by the EU for negotiating ACP countries that signed interim EPAs to ratify and implement the deal or lose their preferential access to the EU market.

“If you look at the EPAs under the Cotonou Accord, the initial intention of that instrument is to assist the ACP countries to fight and eradicate poverty, have sustainable development and integrate those countries into the world trade system. But it looks like over time people have lost sight of that objective,” said the Secretary General Mumuni.

ACP countries have stressed the development agenda of EPA, seeking to iron out outstanding technicalities before finalising the deal.

Contentious issues for example, matters of Rules of Origin, which determines whether an ACP product can be labelled as “local” and thus benefit from preferential market access to EU, and the Most Favoured Nation clause, which would allow the EU the same benefits ACP countries may give to another negotiating party, such as other Southern partners.

The Secretary General said it was time the ACP and EU take “political responsibility” at this point in order to progress trade talks.

(Photo: ACP Secretary General H.E Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni and the Botswana Foreign Affairs Minister Hon. Phandu Skelemani, who is also current President of the ACP Council of Ministers)

– ACP Press