Formal negotiations for EPAs at the level of all ACP countries started in September 2002. In October 2003, regional negotiations got under way with West Africa and Central Africa in February 2004 with Eastern and Southern Africa, and in April 2004 with Caribbean.
There are four pillars to the EPAs:
Partnership : EPAs are partnership agreements, entailing rights and obligations for both sides. Compliance with the obligations by each side is essential for the achievement of the entire undertaking. In particular, while the Union will be prepared to further open up its market to ACP products and tackle all other trade barriers, the ACP States must be prepared to implement appropriate policies to strengthen their supply capacity and to reduce transaction costs.
Regional integration: Regional integration is a powerful means of fostering integration into the world economy. The EU itself has built its strength on regional integration. The recent progress made in regional integration within the ACP reflects the political decision of the ACP States to base their own integration into the world economy on regional economic integration. EPAs will therefore be based on regional integration initiatives existing in the ACP. They will keep step with the integration process within the ACP, as provided for in the Constitutive Act of the African Union or as agreed among the ACP States as a whole.
Development : EPAs are above all instruments for development. They will therefore be designed with all the flexibility required to take account of the economic, social and environmental constraints of the ACP countries concerned and of their capacity to adapt to the new trading environment. On the other hand, they must be integrated into the development policy of the ACP countries and into the support strategies of the EU.
Link to WTO: Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are not an end in themselves, but are intended to act as a stepping stone to the gradual integration of the ACP countries into the world economy. They will therefore build on the rules of the WTO, taking account of the results of the Doha Development Agenda. However, in some respects they will go beyond the WTO. This is so because EPAs will define, within the broad framework of WTO rules, more specific and more operational, bilateral trade-related provisions (for example in the area of sanitary and phytosanitary standards). These are intended to tackle the practical barriers to trade among the ACP countries themselves and between the ACP and the EU. This will help establish closer integration among the parties and be supported through Trade-Related Assistance.
EPAs are scheduled to enter into force by 1 January 2008 at the latest. The non-reciprocal Lomé IV trade preferences will continue to be applied during the interim period (2000-2007).
On 17 June 2002, EU foreign ministers unanimously adopted the mandate for the European Commission to negotiate EPAs with the ACP. The strategy underpinning the mandate is set out in the explanatory memorandum.
On the ACP side, guidelines for the negotiations were agreed by ACP Trade and Finance Ministers on 21 June and confirmed by the ACP Council on 27 June 2002.
Since the process got under way in September 2002, the ACP and the EU, during a first phase, have conducted clarification meetings on EPAs at central level, i.e. in Brussels, involving all ACP countries. Specific negotiations with individual ACP regions were launched in October 2003 with West Africa and Central Africa and in February 2004 with Eastern and Southern Africa. Negotiations with the Caribbean started in April 2004. For the other regions, Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Pacific, negotiations are expected to get under way in 2004.
ACP Sustainability Impact Assessment
In order to provide a qualified assessment of the negotiation of ACP-EC Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA negotiations), Commission departments have launched a study which includes an examination and overview of the potential major economic, environmental and social impacts of these negotiations. For more information see the web site of the consultant PriceWaterhouseCoopers.