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EPAs: EU offers free market access

by D+C | E+Z

The EU commission has offered unrestricted access to the EU market to the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries that make up the ACP group. A precondition is that the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), which the EU and six ACP regional groups are negotiating at the moment, are concluded according to schedule by the end of the year. The opening of the EU market would then come into effect in January 2008.

The EU is offering the removal of all tariffs and import quotas for all ACP export products, with the exception of sugar and rice, for which transition periods would apply. Import duties would also continue to be levied on certain products from South Africa. In return, the Commission expects the ACP countries to open their markets, but an EU press release states that “this will phase in over many years”. Furthermore, ACP countries would have the right to protect sensitive products. “The EPAs are not free trade agreements in the classic sense.”

Klaus Schilder from the non-governmental organisation WEED (World Economy, Environment and Development), argues that the opening of the EU market would be of no benefit to most ACP countries, unless it went along with assistance to expand export capacities. The EU step is certainly heading in the right direction, he says, but in the end it was simply meant to induce the ACP countries to undertake extensive market liberalisation.

German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul welcomes the EU’s move. She considers the proposal a very important step towards realising the EU’s pledge to turn the Economic Partnership Agreements into instruments for poverty reduction. (ell)