The European Union has proposed to remove all remaining quota and tariff limitations on access to the EU market for all Africa, Caribbean and Pacific regions as part of the EPA negotiations. This was stated in the report presented this week to the Chief Negotiator of the SADC Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) group, Masisi by The Head of the European commission Delegation to Botswana, Paul Mallin.
“The offer covers all products, including Agricultural goods,” said Mallin and pointed out that Botswana stands to gain significantly, notably through unlimited access of its beef export into the EU. The report stated that the market opening will apply immediately following the signing of an agreement with a phase in period for rice and sugar. “The only exception will be South Africa where a number of globally competitive products will continue to pay import duties,” he said.
The report said the offer is going to give the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries the same full access to EU markets that all least developed countries have under the EU’s ‘Everything But Arms’ Duty and Quota Free market access system.
This means all ACP countries would have the same market access conditions, encouraging ACP neighbours to collaborate as well as help in building regional markets and supply chains.
The report further stated that the offer will not be tied to the requirement of equivalent openness from the ACP countries. It highlights that the EPAs are not free trade agreements in the classic sense.
Flexibility under WTO rules means that ACP countries will have to offer market access, but this will phase in over many years, said the report, adding that the ACP would also retain the right to protect sensitive products where the removal of import duties could threaten local producers.
The EPA, says the report, aims at integrating the ACP into the world trading economy and increasing the quality and diversity of their trade. The new agreements that the EU is negotiating with the six African, Caribbean and Pacific regions are WTO compatible, preserve existing benefits and encourage economic diversification and development.
“They will change the relationship, from one that offers tariff preferences to one that builds lasting regional and international markets for the ACP.”
Under the current arrangement, the report pointed out that the 40 ACP Least Developed Countries (LDCs) already have duty and quota free access to the EU. The 37 non-LDCs including Botswana, have special tariff preferences under the Cotonou Agreement and South Africa has a bilateral Free Trade Agreement, says the report.
In conclusion, the report highlighted that the EU had committed itself to ensuring that the EPAs would guarantee both the development focus and improving on the preferential trading terms currently enjoyed by ACP countries, while complying with WTO obligations.