Economic Partnership Agreements

Economic Partnership Agreements

Economic Partnership Agreements are a scheme to create a free trade area (FTA) between the European Union and the ACP countries. They are a response to continuing criticism that the non-reciprocal and discriminating preferential trade agreements offered by the EU are incompatible with WTO rules. The EPAs are a key element of the Cotonou Agreement, the latest agreement in the history of ACP-EU Development Cooperation and are to take effect as of 2008.

Key elements


Due to the continuing WTO incompatibility of previous arrangements, the EPAs' key feature is their reciprocity and their non-discriminatory nature. They involve the phased out removal of all trade preferences which have been established between the EU and the ACP countries since 1975 as well as the progressive removal of trade barriers between the partners. In order to fulfil the criterion of being a non-discriminatory agreement, the EPAs are open to all developing countries, thereby effectively terminating the ACP group as the main development partner of the EU.

The establishment of a reciprocal trade agreement confronts the EU with the problem of how to reconcile the special status of the ACP group with the EU’s obligations to the WTO. The solution proposed for this dilemma is an agreement which is only as reciprocal as necessary to fulfil WTO criteria. In reality, the ACP countries will have some room to manoeuvre and to maintain some limited protection of their most vital products. The extent to which trade must be liberalised under the new EPAs is still a widely debated issue and it remains to be seen whether the WTO provisions regulating regional trade agreements will be revised in favour of the EPA scheme at the end of the Doha Round.


True to the Cotonou principle of "differentiation and regionalisation" the developing countries are encouraged to enter into the EPAs in regional groupings. So far the ACP countries have formed six regional groupings in which they intend to enter into EPAs with the European Union. These regional groupings are

* [ l'Union Économique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine]
* [ la Communauté économique et monétaire de l'Afrique centrale]
* [ the Southern African Development Community]
* [ the East African Community]
* [ the Caribbean Forum of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (CARIFORUM)]
*the Pacific region.

pecial treatment

The new regional grouping established due to the EPA scheme causes the problem of how to reconcile this approach with the previous special treatment of the group of least developed countries (LDCs) among the ACP countries. Currently, 39 of the 77 ACP countries are defined as LDCs by the United Nations. The LDCs constitute a special group among the developing countries and have usually been treated separately.

Therefore, also EPAs will provide special arrangements for this particular group. As opposed to the other ACP countries, the group of LDCs will be invited to reject the EPAs and continue trade relations under the "Everything But Arms" (EBA) regulation. Launched in 2001 by the Council of Ministers, this amendment to the Generalized System of Preferences has ever since regulated the trade relations between the EU and the LDCs, granting duty-free access to all products from LDCs without any quantitative restrictions – except to arms and munitions. While this provision facilitates the situation of the LDCs under the new trade scheme, it has also been criticised that the EBA initiative prevents LDCs to open up their markets for EU products within the context of an EPA.

ee also

*ACP-EU Development Cooperation
*Cotonou Agreement
*Lomé Convention
*ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly

External links

* [ Slamming the Door on Development: Analysis of the EU’s response to the Pacific’s EPA negotiating proposals]
* [ European Centre for Development Policy Management]
* [ Partnership under Pressure - an assement of the EU's conduct in the EPA negioations]
* [ ACP-EU trade website]
* [ "Everything But Arms" Regulation]
* [ Euforic] makes information on Europe's development cooperation more accessible
* [ Economic Partnership Agreements briefing from Transnational Institute]
* [ Deal on Economic Partnership Agreements expected at ACP-EU talks] EUX.TV


*Bilal, S; Rampa, F. (2006). Alternative (to) EPAs. Possible scenarios for the future ACP trade relations with the EU (ECDPM Policy Management Report 11). Maastricht: ECDPM. Retrieved June 9, 2006, from []

*ECDPM. 2002. Cotonou Infokit. Maastricht: ECDPM. Retrieved June 8, 2006 from []

*Gillson, I; Grimm, S. (2004). European development cooperation to 2010. EU trade partnerships with developing countries. London: Overseas Development Institute. Retrieved June 10, 2006, from []

*Stevens, C; Kennan, J. (2005). EU-ACP Economic Partnership Agreements: the effects of reciprocity. Sussex: Institute of Development Studies Retrieved on June 19, 2006, from []

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