Brussels, 31 October 2012/ ACP: Long-running talks on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between some members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group and the European Union move ahead at a mired pace, despite best efforts on both sides.

At last week’s joint ministerial trade meeting in Brussels, the ACP Co-Chair, Fiji’s Minister of Trade and Industry Mr Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum called for a review of European ambitions, after nearly a decade of negotiations.

“There is need for a reality check on what is achievable. This reality check needs to be conducted within a reasonable period of time, to settle the outstanding issues… It may be necessary for the EU to lower its ambitions, moderate its expectations and perhaps reduce the scope of the EPAs to a scale that is attainable,” said Mr Sayed Khaiyum.

Since the early 2000’s, 36 ACP countries have been negotiating with the EU as seven regional blocks. So far, only the 15-member Caribbean region has completed a comprehensive EPA, while several other countries have signed and ratified interim deals.

European Trade Commissioner Mr Karel De Gucht told the meeting: “We have achieved less than I expected a year ago, and worse – we have achieved less than was possible.”

Status reports showed a mixed range of progress. While the Caribbean region is in full swing with implementation and the East African Community (EAC) is on the verge of closing a deal, talks with West Africa and Southern Africa remain stalled over contentious issues such as the Most Favoured Nation and Non-Execution Clauses, export taxes and South Africa’s bilateral links with the EU.

No joint meetings have taken place with Central Africa in 2012, and implementation of the interim EPA with the Eastern and Southern African region (ESA) is also static. Meanwhile, the Pacific ACP has alleged a lack of interest from the EU in closing a comprehensive regional deal, despite market access offers already on the table.

The unilateral deadline set by the European Commission for ACP countries to conclude EPA talks by January 2014 – or lose preferential treatment – also threw a shadow on negotiations.

“ACP and the EU sides should set up designated Working Groups at technical and political levels, to address long-standing contentious and unresolved issues with a view to their resolution. In this regard, the ACP is willing to conduct studies at the regional level to determine the real implications of subject areas that are posing difficulties,” said Fijian Trade Minister Mr Sayed Khaiyum.

More rounds of discussions are scheduled for 2013.

– ACP Press