Brussels, 22 October 2012/ ACP: Senior officials and Ministers for Trade from ACP governments convene in Brussels this week to tackle crucial issues regarding trade relations between their countries and the European Union.

The series of high level meetings culminates with the annual ACP-EU Joint Ministerial Trade Committee this Friday.

Opening the meeting today, ACP Secretary General Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas outlined four main agenda items for Permanent Secretaries and Directors of Trade to discuss, before setting recommendations for their ministers to consider later in the week.

“The objective is to seek solutions to the myriad of problems and numerous challenges hampering expansion of ACP’s exports to the European Union, and by so doing, result in strengthening ACP-EU trade cooperation and partnership,” said the Secretary General.

Key issues include the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the EU; EU trade policies and how they affect ACP countries – particularly the EU’s Communication on Trade, Growth and Development; the WTO process; and trade capacity building projects.

The participants will also get to hear an update on a feasibility study for an All-ACP Free Trade Area.

“You will be called upon to take stock of progress in the whole EPA process. It also means evaluating implementation of the EPAs by the Caribbean region which concluded full EPAs and those countries in the Pacific and Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) configuration that are implementing the interim EPAs… We insist that the deadline for conclusions should be driven by substance and not by deadlines,” said the Secretary General.

Obstacles to trade, such as non-tariff barriers or the erosion of EU preferences arising from favours granted to third countries will also be up for discussion.

“The proliferation of negotiations of bilateral and plurilateral agreements is of concern to us since it could undermine the multilateral process. The EU in particular has opened many frontiers – negotiating with regions and countries across the globe.

You will be invited as part of your agenda for this meeting, to analyse the impact of these bilateral free trade agreements between the European Union and third countries, as well as other plurilateral agreements such as Anti-Counterfeit trade Agreement (ACTA), government procurement and Information Technology Agreement,” the Secretary General told officials.

Two days of discussions at the senior official level will provide a basis for the ACP Trade Ministerial meetings later in the week. WTO’s Director General of Trade Mr. Pascal Lamy will address the ministers after the opening ceremony on Wednesday.

Finally, the ACP ministers will meet with EU counterparts on Friday at the 11th Joint Ministerial Trade Committee meeting.

(Photos from top: Chair of the Senior Trade Officials meeting, Permanent Secretary for Trade and Industry of Fiji Mr Shaheen Ali; ACP trade officials in Brussels)

– ACP Press