Why are West African countries and the EU negotiating EPAs?

To renew their trade relationship, and make it compatible with WTO rules.

Trade agreements signed between ACP Group and the EU, dating back to the 1970s, were giving developing countries preferential access to EU markets: ACP countries could apply barriers on imports from Europe, whereas they had almost duty free-quota free access to EU market. This preferential market access violated the WTO requirement of non-discrimination. The EU and ACP counties had to revise their trade agreements until the 31st of December 2007, and started negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements in 2002.

The main objective of EPAs was the establishment of a free trade area in line with WTO rules through gradual trade liberalisation and elimination of trade restrictions. But the EPAs’ aim and objectives go beyond those of a conventional Free Trade Agreement. They are based the recognition that trade preferences granted to ACP countries in the past three decades failed to promote their economic growth. EPAs were framed as an opportunity to eventually put “trade at the service of development”. Besides this strong development component, EPAs were supposed to strengthen regional integration in ACP regions. For the first time, the EU did not negotiate a trade agreement with the ACP Group as a whole, but with 7 regional groupings. One of them is West Africa, comprising all ECOWAS member states plus Mauritania.

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