Brussels, 24 April 2015/ ACP: As African, Caribbean and Pacific regions step up talks conclude Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with the European Union, the African island nation of Seychelles is well into the implementation of its interim EPA with the EU which it signed along with Mauritius, Madagascar and Zimbabwe in 2009 and ratified in 2012.
At the most recent ACP Council of Ministers meeting in December, Seychelles’ Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Barry Faure said the interim EPA “saved the economy”.
“[Given] the position that the government was in, there would have been catastrophic consequences had we not as a country, together with our other neighbours in the ESA [Eastern and Southern Africa] region signed the interim EPA,” he said.
Other negotiating regions of the ACP (five in Africa and one in the Pacific) are at various stages of progress, amidst strong pushes for and against the agreements as they are currently framed, from ACP and EU-based officials, civil society groups and experts.
Western Africa was the closest to concluding a full regional EPA last month, but Heads of State refused to sign the agreement at the last minute, until divergences over technical issues were smoothed out with the EU side.
“Seychelles signed it because we realised that had we not signed it we would be in a vacuum. The other countries do not feel this deep need to do so. I think it is alright for them to feel like that… Countries need to be allowed to have the space to plan as they wish,” stated Mr Faure.
ACP countries have historically enjoyed non-reciprocal duty free, quota free access to European markets as part of its privileged ACP-EU relationship. However, the framework did not conform to WTO rules on free trade and the Economic Partnership Agreements were put forward to ensure WTO-compatibility, while fostering economic development in ACP countries.
Negotiations began in 2002, with aims to close deals by 2007. When this did not happen, EU moved for “interim” trade agreements that maintained ACP special access to EU markets while full regional EPAs continued to be negotiated. Those that did not sign on, such as Nigeria, were forced to start paying tariffs to enter EU markets.
Only the Caribbean region (15 countries) have concluded and begun implementing a full regional EPA with the EU.
Mr Faure added that while there are challenges in the implementation of the interim EPA, the issues are “secondary” to the growth of the economy. One such challenge is the need to sign customs administration agreements with other countries on cumulation in order to qualify under the rules of origin. Development funds also took some time to be delivered.
“[Countries need] to have sufficient policy space for them to open up their markets as and when they feel like it. It really depends on the country. They need to do the economics and make the decision,” he said.
– ACP Press