- The European Union Trade Commissioner, Catherine Ashton, believes that the signing of an interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with countries from the Eastern and Southern Africa regional grouping (ESA) is a solid foundation towards a more comprehensive trade partnership.
The EU Commissioner said this, speaking after the weekend signing with the ESA countries, Mauritius, Seychelles, Zimbabwe and Madagascar, with the exception of Zambia and Comoros said to have indicated they will sign at a later date.
The agreement was signed in Grand Baie, Mauritius, by Commissioner Ashton and Swedish deputy trade minister Gunnar Wieslander on behalf of the EU. The deal offers the ESA countries that signed the agreement, the immediate and full access to EU markets (with transition periods for rice and sugar), together with improved rules of origin. ESA countries will open their markets gradually over the next 15 years, with a number of important exceptions reflecting their development needs.
Commissioner Ashton said “We now have the foundation to build a more comprehensive trade partnership that will support the ESA region’s work to build diverse and sustainable economies. This agreement brings a diverse region together under a single trade arrangement with the EU, tailored to the specific needs of the region and recognising its diversity."
While in Mauritius, Commissioner Ashton also met with ministers from a wider group of ESA states to discuss elements of this comprehensive trade partnership, which would cover issues like services, investment, agriculture, technical standards, trade facilitation and trade-related rules. Discussions covered key issues such as protection for infant industries and export duties and both sides agreed to press forward with negotiations without delay.
All imports from the countries that signed the interim EPA have benefited from duty and quota free access to the EU since 1 st January 2008 (with short transition periods for rice and sugar). These countries will now liberalise their markets to EU imports over the next 15 years, gradually removing tariffs on between 80 percent and 98 percent of imports from the EU depending on the country. Among the products excluded from liberalisation are sensitive agricultural and manufactured products such as milk, meat, vegetables, textiles, footwear and clothing.
Other regional countries like Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi and Sudan are involved in ongoing negotiations for the more comprehensive regional agreement and may join the agreement later. As Least Developed Countries they have duty free access to EU markets under the EU Everything But Arms trade arrangement and do not need to submit a market access offer to sign the agreement and benefit from its development cooperation and fisheries provisions while negotiations towards the more comprehensive deal continue.
In 2008 total EU imports from the ESA group were approximately €3.2bn, or 0.20 percent of all EU imports, comprising mainly of textiles and clothing, sugar, fish products and copper. Last year, EU exports to the ESA Group consisted mostly of mechanical and electrical machinery and vehicles, and totalled €4.3bn.
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