Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Critical phase for EPA negotiations: meeting deadlines or providing quality time to meet the development objectives?

From: EU NEWS - Issue 1, February 2007 (APRODEV, CIDSE, Caritas Europa).

24 January 2007: European Parliament - International Trade Committee: presentation by MEP Robert Sturdy of his report on EPAs

In his introduction to his EPA report MEP Sturdy observed that EPAs are remarkably unpopular. Substantial fears from ACP side are justified, and there is recognition that the EU has a bad record on delivering on its promises (see the example of the sugar reform and the mere 110 Mio in Action Plan for Sugar Protocol countries). The notion of partnership in EU ACP relations needs to be recalled, but currently is not a reality.

MEP Sturdy supports the call for an extension of the WTO waiver if need be. The EPA Review is not on course and the EC has not done its job right by not taking on board the options of the others. It is also expected that amendments to the report by other MEPs will support improved Rules of Origin, a Duty Free and Quota Free market access offer by the EU, Special Safeguard Mechanisms, additional funds beyond the10th EDF and the set up of a Parliamentary Oversight Committee on EPAs composed of EU and ACP parliamentarians. There is recognition that trade is not gender neutral but this needs to be further look at. In his response, Karl Falkenberg, Deputy Director of DG Trade, said that the EC will not repeat wild liberalization of the past, and that priority will be given to market building at a regional and South-South level first, and that only over time and once ACP countries have become more diversified and competitive, they will be expected to begin opening their markets vis-à-vis the EU. It is time to put this in writing in the EPA texts rather than to keep pushing for
market access in the negotiations, as done in government procurement negotiations with the Caribbean, to mention just one example.

30 January 2007: European Parliament - Development Committee

German Development Minister Wiezcorek-Zeul called for equal development chances for developing countries that is in the long term interest of the EU and should be part of the understanding of its external relations policies. On EPAs, the objective is to strengthen ACP countries in their capacity to benefit from trade and regional integration and there is full support for long transition periods, asymmetry in liberalization and exemptions. Access to the markets of ACP countries is not part of the agenda.

Another opportunity for political dialogue on the development aspects in the EPA negotiations is the Informal Development Council on 12-13 March in Petersberg Bonn and the German Presidency has made a point in requesting both, Commissioner Michel and Commissioner Mandelson to attend this informal Council meeting, as well as to present two (independent?) status reports on EPA negotiations. Worth mentioning is the explicit support to the Extracting Industry Transparency Initiative that provide
details on financial flows, seen as a pre-requisite for any fight of corruption.

Minister Wiezcorek-Zeul also strongly opposed the use of EDF money for African peace missions and warned of loss of EU credibility with recurrent trends to use ODA labeled money for military interventions- for which the Stability Instrument would be the appropriate instrument. 2007 is half time for the achievement of the MDGs that should be strived to be met. Though worrying enough, expenditures for weapons are
nowadays higher than they were during the cold war (with 1.1 billion US Dollars).

1st February 2007: Meeting between the Development Group of the Council (CODEV) and CONCORD representatives

German chair of the CODEV emphasised that the EPA negotiations constitute the most critical development issue during the German EU Presidency. Arguments presented by the CONCORD delegation illustrated the risk to rush and push for meeting a deadline
that is detrimental to the quality of an agreement. Apart from the Caribbean, none of the ACP EPA regions seems to be prepared to meet the deadline. Whereas it might be technically feasible to conclude EPA negotiations during the German EU Presidency, a hazardous agreement with key ingredients not yet being put on the table does not make any good sense and haste will work to the detriment of the weaker negotiating party. Fundamental differences remain in all six EPA regions on where and how to ensure that a development dimension is an integral part of the EPA provisions. Other key
divergences are on ownership of the regional integration process, lack of adjustment resources, and negotiation of trade related issues. Delay in the negotiations has
occurred as much from the side of the EU who has taken 9 months to respond to the SADC proposal to include South Africa in the regional EPA grouping and to offer contractual 'Everything But Arms' to the SADC LDC members. After four months, the response to the ESA region proposal on a fishery agreement is still outstanding. Furthermore, the EC has not agreed on its market access offer in response to requests for duty free and quota free access for all ACP countries, and will most likely not be ready to offer improved rules of origin by the end of this year. But the rules of origin is one of the single most important condition necessary for any of the ACP LDC countries to benefit from the Everything But Arms initiative.

A bad or second best EPA agreement will not do. Arguing that any bad deal could be corrected by means of review clauses is not an option in asymmetric power relations. Finally, the EC's handling of the EPA Review is less than encouraging, given their fierce opposition to any inclusive and transparent review.

In response, individual Member States representatives expressed their support to arguments in favour of quality agreements, understanding the lack of confidence by the ACP side and the lack of guarantees to cover for EPA adjustment resources. Some of them also spoke in favor of duty free and quota free market access and improved rules of origin.

Source: EU NEWS - Issue 1, February 2007 (APRODEV, CIDSE, Caritas Europa).

See also Euforic dossier on ACP trade.