Brussels, 12 September 2012/ ACP: The European Parliament is scheduled to vote this afternoon on whether to amend Council Regulation (EC) 1528/2007 – a move that may see a number of ACP countries lose duty free, quota free access to European markets if they fail to conclude trade talks by the end of 2013.

[***Update 12/09/2012,7pm: Parliamentary Debate has concluded, VOTE IS 12h00 on 13 September. WATCH THE FULL DEBATE on EuroParlTV].

The debate follows a proposal by the European Commission that members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the EU must wrap these up before 1 January 2014. If they do not move towards ratification, those not classified as Least Developed Countries will begin paying higher tariffs on exports to Europe.

On the eve of the debate, ACP Secretary General Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas repeated appeals for flexibility in negotiations. Speaking to Radio Australia, he called for a development-sensitive approach unhampered by a unilateral deadline.

“We are completely opposed to the proposal to remove quota free, duty free [market access] privileges for … ACP countries while these negotiations are ongoing. We encourage negotiations and a serene environment where the interests of [ACP] countries are taken into account in arriving at a comprehensive economic partnership agreement that is development friendly, and that also reinforces regional integration,” said Dr Chambas.

Contentious issues

With the exception of the Caribbean, six other regional blocs in the ACP Group have yet to conclude full regional EPAs since discussions began in 2002. Countries have called for the resolution of various “contentious issues” before signing.

Issues of concern include the 15-year time frame before ACP markets must be opened up to free trade with Europe, the extent of goods and services to be liberalised, rules and requirements for goods to enter Europe (for example, phyto-sanitary measures and rules of origin), export taxes, and numerous other key clauses in the agreements.

“There are well founded reasons why the agreements reached in 2007 have not been implemented, as well as why the comprehensive regional agreements have not been concluded. Several of the agreements concluded in 2007, were reached with individual countries, and not with the whole regions which have continued the negotiations,” stated the Head of Sustainable Development and Trade at the ACP Secretariat, Assistant Secretary General Mr Achille Bassilekin III.

“It is clear that implementing EPAs by individual countries within a region could have a serious negative impact on the regional integration process.”

Countries to be directly affected by the Commission’s proposal include Cameroon, Fiji, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. These would fall back on to the EU's Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) scheme, with increased tariffs on most of their key exports.

Botswana and Namibia, classi fied as Upper Middle Income would, according to the GSP proposal, revert to rates applied to developed countries such as the United States and Japan.

Secretary General Chambas said he was hopeful the European Parliament vote will be favourable for ACP countries when they sit in Strasbourg today.

[***Update 12/09/2012,7pm: Parliamentary Debate has concluded, VOTE IS 12h00 on 13 September. WATCH THE FULL DEBATE ON EuroParlTV].

(Photo: ACP Secretary General Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas)

– ACP Press

See official documents relating to the debate – parliamentary reports, opinions, amendments, agenda at European Parliament website.