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It’s time to talk
– by Sheila Mysorekar
© Ron Giling/Lineair
Trade with the EU matters to West African economies: port workers in Amsterdam with cocoa shipment from Côte d’Ivoire
The EU has a history of granting member countries’ former colonies preferential access to its markets. From 1963 on, trade relations were regulated according to a series of subsequent conventions and agreements concluded in Yaoundé, Lomé and, most recently, in Cotonou. The Cotonou Agreement of 2000 was the most comprehensive. It deals with issues apart from trade, such as the rule of law or public participation in policymaking.
Granting certain countries preferential access to markets is incompatible with the rules of the World Trade Organisations however, and the Cotonou Agreement foresees an alternative. It stated that the EU would negotiate bilateral trade agreements with seven regional organisations of ACP countries by 2008. Called EPAs (economic partnership agreements), such treaties would be reciprocal, WTO compatible and supportive of regional integration. In view of this provision, the WTO granted a waiver according to which the old EU preferences could stand until 2008.
By 2008, however, the EU only managed to conclude an EPA with the Caribbean Forum, a group of 16 countries. Its bilateral trade with the other regional organisations is currently done according to interim EPAs that basically only deal with the trade in goods. Talks have proven difficult and are not making much headway, as Dietmar Nickel concedes in his SWP paper.
The author maintains that EPAs and other treaties could, in principle, cover all issues dealt with in the Cotonou Agreement in future. In his view, an interesting approach is the Joint Africa-Europe
Strategy (JAES), in which the EU and the African Union have been cooperating on issues such as peace, multilateralism, human rights and development.
Nonetheless, Nickel argues that it would make sense to continue EU-ACP cooperation systematically because the ACP countries have built a sense of solidarity among one another in regard to the former colonial masters. Moreover, their bargaining power is greater when they coordinate their policies among one another. At the same time, the EU would benefit from a continued alliance with the ACP.
Nickel points out that international agreements take a long time to negotiate. The Cotonou Agreement states that talks for the follow-up treaty are to begin 18 months before it expires. In Nickel’s view, that time span is too short, so he wants policymakers in all countries concerned to start tackling the relevant issues soon.