September 30, 2008

EPA with the EU initialled while ACP Summit remains highly sceptical

Zambia has initialed the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), paving the way for the country to be included in market access provisions laid down by the interim EPA initialed at the end of 2007 by Eastern and Southern African (ESA) countries and the EU.

The initialing ceremony took place at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on September 30, 2008 in the presence of representatives of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) under which Zambia has been negotiating the EPA. The Zambian team was led by Davison Chilipamushi, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry.

Last year, Zambia initialed the EPA text but did not conclude negotiations on a market access offer, and, as a result, was not included in the EPA market access regulation which opens the EU market to imports from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries which have initialed (interim) EPAs. The offer will now be integrated into the EU-ESA interim deal, a move which secures full access to the EU market for Zambian products.

EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, welcomed the move: "This agreement improves access to European markets for Zambian exporters. It thus provides Zambia with new development tools, fosters its economic growth and increases its integration in the global economy." EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel also welcomed it: "It is a positive step towards regional integration and cooperation for Zambia and its neighbouring countries. In the coming months and years, I believe that the people of Zambia will benefit from this agreement in terms of stronger growth and exports, and more jobs."

The ESA EPA has been negotiated with the regional negotiator, COMESA. ESA countries now included in the interim EPA are: Burundi, Comoros, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Negotiations towards a full, comprehensive EPA include a much larger configuration for the region.

While a number of individual ACP (and SADC) countries have meanwhile signed interim or full EPA agreements, African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) as a group remain highly sceptical regarding the Economic Partnership agreements as forced through by the European Union. On October 3, the ACP Summit in Accra expressed concern “about the undue pressure that is being put on some ACP countries to move forward to signing and ratification of interim or final EPA's before legitimate concerns have been adequately addressed” and called for ”high level consultations on the EPAs, with a number of EU Member States”. Instead of EPAs, creation of an ACP Free Trade Area should be considered.

Ghanian President J.A. Kufuor, speaking in his capacity of President of the ACP Summit, also criticised the partnership agreements between African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the European Union (EU), saying the agreements had the potential to undermine regional integration efforts and split the ranks of ACP countries. (SADOCC)

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