The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries are aimed at promoting trade between the two groupings – and through trade development, sustainable growth and poverty reduction. The EPAs set out to help ACP countries integrate into the world economy and share in the opportunities offered by globalisation.
For well over 30 years, exports from the ACP countries were given generous access to the European market. Yet preferential access failed to boost local economies and stimulate growth in ACP countries. And the proportion of EU imports from ACP countries dropped from 7% to 3% of EU imports.
The EPAs aim to remedy this situation. EPAs:
- date back to in 2000.
- are "tailor-made" to suit specific regional circumstances.
- go beyond conventional free-trade agreements, focusing on ACP development, taking account of their socio-economic circumstances and include co-operation and assistance to help ACPs implement the Agreements.
- opened up EU markets fully and immediately (unilaterally by the EU since 1st January 2008), but allowed ACPs 15 (and up to 25) years to open up to EU imports while providing protection for the sensitive 20% of imports.
- provide scope for wide-ranging trade co-operation on areas such as services and standards.
- are also designed to be drivers of change that will kick-start reform and help strengthen rule of law in the economic field, thereby attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), so helping to create a "virtuous circle" of growth.
For European consumers
- lower prices – removing trade barriers produces healthy competition on the EU market and lower prices for consumers
- more choice – exotic new produce from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP countries), and new varieties of familiar goods like coffee, cocoa, mangos, pineapple etc.
- good quality and good value – tropical products grown in tropical climates
- jobs – in the long run, trade will help ACP countries become more prosperous. In turn, that will generate more demand for European products and expertise, which will be good for employment.
- ethical choices – many thousands of small-scale, family-run businesses in ACP countries will benefit from being able to sell their produce in the EU.
For farmers and manufacturers in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific:
- no quotas, no duties on exports to the EU – free access to the EU market of half a billion people for all ACP products, providing plenty of scope for economies of scale
- access to a larger free market including EFTA countries – including Switzerland and Norway
- building regional markets – boosting trade between ACP neighbours and regions, with very significant potential benefits for ACP exporters
- no undue competition – ACP countries will only gradually open their markets to EU imports, and producers of the most sensitive 20% of goods will enjoy permanent protection from competition
- no shocks – EPAs will be implemented in a way that avoids unnecessary shocks. Duties will be phased out over a period of 15 (and up to a maximum of) 25 years, with safeguards and support on offer for ACP countries that encounter problems.
- coverage of services and foreign investment – EPAs don’t just deal with trade in goods but with issues relating to development too – because trade is development.
- wider reforms – EPAs are part of the wider development agenda for ACP countries, to strengthen the law, attract local and foreign investment and create the conditions for greater prosperity.