A regional Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with a development dimension, between the European Union (EU) and West African States (ECOWAS + Mauritania).
The main objective of the West Africa – European Union EPA is the establishment of a free trade area between Europe and West Africa in accordance with Article XXIV of GATT, through the gradual removal of trade restrictions between the two trade partners. However, the objectives of the EPA go beyond a conventional free trade agreement. The EPA is designed as a tool which enables trade to support the development. Therefore, the EPA is intended to deepen regional integration and foster the smooth and gradual integration of ACP States into the world economy, with due regard for their political choices and development priorities, thereby promoting their sustainable development and contribution to poverty eradication.
The EPA is negotiated between the EU and each of 7 regional groups, including West Africa which comprises ECOWAS Member States and Mauritania. The regional negotiations were preceded by an “All ACP-EU” phase.
The negotiations were officially launched at all ACP level on 27 September 2002. The negotiations between EU and WA took off on 4 August 2004 f[F1] ollowing the launch of the Accra Road Map.
An agreement compatible with WTO rules and which fosters the gradual integration of West African States into the world economy.
Between 1975 and 2000, relations between West Africa (as part of the African Caribbean and Pacific States) and the European Union were governed by four successive Lomé conventions, with the main objective of promoting the gradual integration of ACP countries into the global economy.
As the Lomé convention was about to expire, the EU and the ACP entered into negotiations about the follow-up agreement and decided to make considerable changes. The principle reason was that the Lomé trade arrangements was not compatible with international trade rules, but also because the existing trade preferences had had only limited success and were being eroded. Both parties therefore agreed to conclude a new trading arrangement by December 2007 which is the deadline set up in the waver granted by WTO for the preferential regime between the EU and ACP. This commitment is stated in Cotonou Agreement signed in 2000.
In the negotiations, the ECOWAS Commission, in collaboration with the UEMOA Commission, represent West Africa. The European Commission represents the European Union.
The negotiations structure was set out in the road map of the WA/EU EPA Negotiations, which was adopted in Accra in 2003. The negotiations are held at three levels: Experts, Senior Officials and Chief Negotiators.
In practice, participants for the meeting of Experts are officials from the three Commissions (ECOWAS, UEMOA and EU), representatives of the civil society and the private sector. Resource persons specialists on the specific subjects debated are also invited to the meetings when needed. The conclusions at the meeting of experts, and particularly the unresolved matters, are submitted to the meeting of senior officials.
At the senior officials level, West Africa is represented by the ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement. He is assisted by the UEMOA Commissioner for Regional Market, Trade, Competition and Cooperation. For the European Union, the Director of Trade leads the European Commission delegation. The meeting of senior officials is convened when sufficient progress has been made at the meeting of experts. Senior Officials are responsible for fixing the time-table and mandate of thematic technical groups of experts, evaluate their progress and achievements, adopt provisional conclusions and give account to the Chief Negotiators.
The Presidents of the ECOWAS and UEMOA Commissions are the heads of delegation of the Chief Negotiators of the RNC for the West African region. The EU’s Commissioner for Trade is the EC’s Head of Delegation. The fundamental role of the Chief Negotiators is to adopt the conclusions of negotiations and issue policy guidelines for the subsequent phases of negotiations.
Other structures exists such as:
- the Ministerial Monitoring Committee which meets periodically to consider the progress made and provide guidelines for the negotiations
- the Contact Group which facilities talks
- the Regional Preparatory Task Force which facilitates and coordinates the development cooperation.
The EPA negotiations were not concluded by the scheduled deadline of December 2007.
Due to the numerous areas of divergence between the two parties, the regional EPA was not concluded by the scheduled deadline of December 2007. With a view to safeguarding preferential access to the EU market and avoiding disturbances in their trade with the above partner, some ACP countries signed interim EPAs with the EU compatible with the rules of the WTO. In West Africa, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana are the two countries that concluded interim EPAs. The EU and West Africa agreed that the interim agreements be replaced with a regional agreement as soon as one is signed.
The EU had adopted the EC regulation 1528/2007 to enable ACP countries that had concluded interim EPAs to continue to benefit from trade preferences on its market. The amendment of this rule effected in 2013 envisages a loss of the benefit of preferential trade for countries that had not ratified their interim agreements by 1st October 2014.
Progress made toward setting up a common regional market would be effaced.
If a regional EPA is not concluded and Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana ratify interim EPAs concluded with the EU, 5 trade regimes with the EU will operate at the same time, in the region. These cover Everything but weapons for the 12 LDCs, the Generalised Preference System for Nigeria, the interim EPA for Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire and the Generalised Preference System + for Cape Verde. Such a situation would have adverse effects on the ECOWAS Free Trade Area and its Customs Union. The ECOWAS Common External Tariff would be overshadowed, given that products coming from the EU could sidestep the borders of ECOWAS in favour of market openings in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire under the EPA.
The structure of the offer for access to West African markets, the schedule for dismantling and other envisaged measures make it possible to reduce the adverse effects of the agreement.
This scenario for disaster can not occur due to the following main reasons:
- Products considered very sensitive by the region, such as agricultural produce, have been excluded from liberalisation – 60 of the 75% of products to be liberalised involve input, raw materials or capital goods, some of which already had a 0% customs duty attached to them, they are therefore already liberalised indeed.
- By the end of the first five years, the nature of liberalised products should have a positive impact on the productive sector and, therefore, on increase in wealth and in revenue.
- It is envisaged that there be compensation by the EU for fiscal net impact and support for implementing a fiscal transition regime which would, on the medium term, generate new tax revenue for the State.
- Safeguard measures have been envisaged.
- The agreement consists of a clause for revision that may be implemented every 5 years.
- The calendar for liberalisation provides for gradual opening over a 20 year period, which gives West African countries enough time to adjust to the new context of the EPA.
The EPA Development Programme (EPADP) is the main instrument agreed on by the EU and West Africa for providing concrete content for the development cooperation under the EPA. The EU has made several commitments to ensure appropriate support for implementation of the programme.
Support envisaged by the EPADP mainly involves:
- Increase and diversification of production.
- Development of intra-regional trade and improvement of access to the international market.
- Boosting trade-related infrastructure.
- Implementation of tax and social adjustments as well as other trade-related reforms.
- Monitoring and evaluation of the agreement.
The sum of financial support from the EU for the EPADP for the period from 2015 – 2010 amounts to 6.5 billion euro. The EU has also committed to continuing with its financial support beyond that period, including after the expiration of the Cotonou agreement.
The commitments made by the EU for funding of the EPADP are stipulated in the main text of the Agreement, the Protocol on the EPADP and the Declarations of the European Council. Furthermore, it is envisaged that there be joint definition of indicators to ensure synergy between the rhythm of liberalisation and progress achieved from implementation of EPADP activities.