Economic Partnership Agreements are a type of joint trade and cooperation agreement, developed in recent years by the European Union to provide a framework for its economic relations with developing countries, whether individually or in groups. Concluded under Articles 207 and 212 TFEU – relating to Common Commercial Policy (CCP) and economic cooperation respectively – EPAs sit in between the Union’s external trade policy and its development policy. They offer the benefits of free trade to partner countries, but on a reciprocal basis, so promoting a relationship based on both mutual rights and obligations.
The European Commission developed the EPA concept in response to increasing criticism within the World Trade Organization (WTO) of the preferential, non-reciprocal trade concessions which it had until then been offering all the ACP states, under the successive Yaoundé and Lomé Conventions (1975-2000), based on a ‘GATT waiver’. The two, more recent, Cotonou Agreements provide for the full, reciprocal opening of trade, with the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers, among just under half the 79 ACP states. Under WTO rules, the 40 least developed countries (LDCs) within the ACP may continue to receive full, unreciprocated access to EU markets – an arrangement formalised through the Union’s ‘Everything but Arms’ initiative, adopted in 2001.
By agreement at the Doha WTO Ministerial Conference in 2001, the waiver for trade between the EU and the non-LDC ACP states was maintained only until January 2008. The Union started negotiations with all the ACP states to put in place EPAs that would operate on a regional basis, partly to encourage greater regional integration among developing countries. The process has taken much longer than expected, mainly because of the difficulty confronted by many developing countries in meeting the obligations of the multilateral system. The first successful regional negotiation was only completed in October 2008, when the Union signed an EPA with the CARIFORUM group of Caribbean states. Whilst negotiations continue with the ACP’s six other regional groupings, the EU has had to conclude a significant number of short-term, ‘interim’ EPAs bilaterally with individual countries. So far, the EU has either initialled or signed full or interim EPAs with 36 out of the 39 non-LDC countries within the ACP.
The introduction of conditionality into cooperation agreements marks them out as ‘fourth generation’ agreements of this kind. In addition to mutual access to markets, conditions may relate inter alia to technical, environmental and labour standards, public procurement, competition policy, intellectual property, investment protection, and counter-terrorism.
Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012
Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry