The last meeting of Chief Negotiators from West Africa and the European Union held in Brussels on 6 February 2014 was concluded with commitments on all the issues that had remained unresolved between both parties. With this consensus, a path leading to the conclusion of the EPA between the two regions has been opened. The draft text of the agreement, which has been under negotiation since 2008, was prepared from different joint reports submitted by both parties in phase 1 of the negotiations which were mainly on the Free Trade Zone, the West African Customs Union, trade facilitation, non-tariff measures (technical standards, TBT, SPS measures), production sectors, the report on the WA-EU EPA reference framework and the proposed text submitted in April 2007 by the European Commission to the six regions involved in negotiating the EPA.
Parties to the Agreement are the European Union and its member States, on one hand, and ECOWAS, UEMOA and the States of the West African region (ECOWAS member States + Mauritania), on the other hand.
The WA-EU EPA, which the agreement concerns, consists of a preamble, seven (7) parts and six (6) annexes. In the preamble, both parties base the EPA on the objectives of regional integration for which ECOWAS and UEMOA were created, on strengthening trade cooperation between West Africa and the European Union and on the contributions of such trade cooperation to development in West Africa.
The different parties to the Agreement are committed to (i) economic and trade partnership for sustainable development, (ii) trade policy and trade related issues, particularly the processing of customs duties, technical obstacles to trade, safeguard measures, trade facilitation and customs, agricultural and food security cooperation, (iii) cooperation for implementation of the development dimension and achievement of the objectives of the EPA, (iv) dispute prevention and resolution, (v) general exceptions, (vi) institutional arrangements and, lastly, (vii) final provisions.
As for the annexes, they relate to: (a) the protocol defining the notion of “original products” and methods of administrative cooperation, (b) customs duties on West African original products, (c) customs duties on original products from the European Union, (d) the protocol relating to Mutual Administrative Assistance on Customs Matters, (e) the protocol relating to the EPA Development Programme (EPADP) and, lastly, (f) the declaration of the Parties on countries that have set up a customs union with the European Union.
Certain major principles are inscribed in the text. They mainly involve:
- the agreement in principle on appropriate coverage of the development dimension in the text of the overall agreement;
- free movement of goods between the Parties, notably, the institution of a free practice regime by the West African region;
- mutual obligation of prohibiting exports toward the territories of other Parties of products whose consumption is prohibited in compliance with SPS standards and technical rules, as well as principles of safety on the domestic market of the exporting Party;
- negotiation of a single system of rules of origin for the whole region;
- application of the principle of asymmetry in the criteria and conditions to be met in determining the origin of products and the option of extending the cumulating rule to all developing countries;
- the option, for the West African region, of reviewing the agreed liberalisation schedule as support measures for the development of its sectoral policies (mainly agricultural and industrial);
- implementation of the EPADP and monitoring of the EPA beyond the expiry date of the Cotonou Agreement;
- inclusion of a provision on a commitment by the EU and its member States to fund the EPADP;
- use of the EPA Regional Fund as one of the privileged instruments for channeling resources to be mobilised under the EPA;
- exemption of the regional integration autonomous funding mechanism from duties and taxes subject to tariff reduction;
- exclusion of European agricultural export produce toward West Africa from European subsidies;
- institution of a mechanism for dialogue between the two parties on agricultural policies and food security;
- institution of decision-making and advisory bodies to boost involvement of all stakeholders in implementation and monitoring of the EPA. This would particularly involve a policy body in charge of policy governance of the agreement (Joint EPA Board), a body in charge of effective implementation of the agreement and of coordination of all related activities (EPA Implementation Committee) and two advisory committees (the Parity Advisory Committee and the Joint EPA Parliamentary Committee);
- strengthening of administrative and customs cooperation to facilitate trade development;
- where required, resort to anti-dumping and compensatory measures envisaged in the EPA or in accordance with WTO rules;
- support for agricultural policies to strengthen agricultural sectors and ensure food security;
- deepening cooperation toward sustainable management of fishery resources;
- institution of a conflict resolution mechanism where the whole region is defined as party to the conflict. For implementation of such a mechanism, a legal assistance programme has been envisaged for the WA region;
- provisions on the duration of the agreement, its entry into force and procedures for review