Written by Ionel Zamfir.
For two decades, the EU has sought to modernise its preferential trade relationship with the sub-Saharan African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and establish free trade areas with regional groupings under so-called economic partnership agreements (EPAs). The process of establishing the EPAs has been longer and more complicated than initially expected, encountering criticism and opposition from civil society and some governments in ACP countries, who have been worried about the potential negative impact. So far, the results are mixed, with nine agreements negotiated – covering more than half of the ACP countries – but not yet all implemented.
EPAs are free trade agreements that allow ACP countries to continue exporting their products to the EU duty free and quota free, while ensuring full compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. EU goods should also benefit gradually from full liberalisation, though with numerous exceptions related to goods ACP countries wish to protect from external competition, particularly agricultural products. In this respect, EPAs are development-oriented, asymmetric agreements providing important advantages and safeguards to ACP countries, to foster their sustainable economic development, regional integration and integration on world markets.
While their potential impact has given rise to both numerous fears and great expectations, assessments of EPAs that have already been implemented show very limited effects, possibly due to their long drawn-out and gradual implementation. The risk of fragmenting regional integration schemes, particularly in Africa, is mitigated by the slow pace of trade integration on the continent.
The European Parliament has closely monitored the EPA process from the beginning. In a resolution of June 2022 on the future of EU trade with Africa, the Parliament insisted on a careful assessment of their impact by the Commission, on strengthening their – currently limited – sustainable development provisions and introducing a sanctions mechanism for non-compliance, and on the need to ensure that they do not disrupt regional integration.
This briefing updates a previous publication from July 2018.
Read the complete briefing on ‘EU economic partnership agreements with ACP countries: Which way forward?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
Listen to policy podcast ‘EU economic partnership agreements with ACP countries: Which way forward?’ on YouTube.