January 27, 2014

Economic Partnership Agreements: West Africa seals a deal at the 11th hour

Posted: 17:31 PM CEST

by Isabelle Ramdoo

in Trade and Regional integration, Trade Policy and Economic Partnership Agreements

After 10 years of tough negotiations, on 24th January 2014, West African and European Commission (EC) negotiators reached a major breakthrough on what now will be the first regional economic partnership agreement (EPA) since 2007. 

Isabelle Ramdoo and San Bilal

This is no small achievement. Given the disparity of situations among West African countries, some needing an EPA to preserve their preferential market access to the EU, (Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana), while others were not dependent on it. Failure to reach a regional agreement with the EU would have strained, and potentially threatened to disrupt, the integration process of West Africa.

It is significant given the divergence of views between Europe and ECOWAS. By putting their differences in perspective and focusing on the ultimate goals, the parties have shown the necessary flexibility to reach a politically, as well as economically, important agreement.

What’s in it?

Compromise has been reached by both parties on a number of thorny issues that had blocked previous rounds of negotiations. For the first time in over 10 years, the EC has agreed on a flexible interpretation of the threshold required to liberalise substantially all trade, in order to be compatible with the rules of the WTO. Recognizing the special characteristics of West Africa, a deal was struck at 75% of trade to be liberalised over the next 20 years, rather the EU request for 80% over 15 years. Such flexible and pragmatic approach has played a key role in unlocking the negotiations. The EC further agreed to stop all export subsidies to West African countries.

West Africa also had to compromise to reach an agreement, notably by accepting the controversial Most Favoured Nation Treatment clause (though the clause contains some exceptions). The non-execution clause has not been included, but a reference was made to the principle of the Cotonou Agreement according to which any party could be suspended from the Agreement in case of breaches to human rights, democratic principles and rule of law.

Regarding the financing of development, the amount agreed under the EPA Development Programme (PAPED) remains at 6.5 billion euros for the period 2015-19, and there is no explicit commitment to provide “additional resources”. This was to be expected, given the financial situation of most European countries and the constraints on their development budgets. This is falls 8.5 million euros short of the West African estimates. The EU (Commission, member states and financial institutions) best endeavor commitment to seek solutions to finance the gaps are the only additional comfort West African have been able to obtain.

What now?

It seems that both the EU and West Africa (Nigeria and Senegal included) can finally go home and claim victory. Countries with the biggest interests (Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana) have been able to maintain their market access to the EU while preserving regional unity and coherence with the current regional integration agenda. Good for West Africa. The European Commission has been able to reach a new EPA deal, at last, which vindicates some of its instance on the merits of an agreement. Its flexibility on market access, a key aspect of the ECOWAS-EU EPA, has also proved vital. More importantly, by concluding a deal, the EU and ECOWAS have avoided a serious political and economic fallout which would have inevitably followed from a collapse of the talks.

What’s the way forward?

The agreement reached by the senior officials will have to be officially sealed, apparently in a meeting early February in Brussels by the Chief negotiators, to be endorsed at the ECOWAS Head of States Summit end of February.

What it means for the rest of Africa remains uncertain, though. African Union Heads of States are gathering in Addis Ababa today to discuss continental priorities. As it sets out to refine the contours of its Agenda 2063, in which economic development is the central pillar, the African Union will have to add to its long list of challenges innovative ways of coming to grips with the diversity of regional initiatives and their consistency with the continental agenda.

EPAs are also on their agenda, as they are expected to give a signal of African Unity as the joint Africa-EU Summit looms in the horizon. The coherence of regional integration at the pan-African level, and among regions, remains an issue. To which extend issues agreed in West Africa could have a positive impact on other regions remains to be seen. Will the EU exhibit additional flexibility towards other regions as well, and if so, in which areas? Can a deal be reached in other regions? One would hope so, and the ECOWAS-EU EPA is a positive signal. But this will continue to require flexible approaches by all parties, and a continued political commitment at the highest level to overcome differences. The Africa-EU Summit should also offer such an opportunity.

Read ECDPM’s latest EPA update

Media Contact: Emily Barker Mobile: +32 474 12 34 73





{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Niels Keijzer January 28, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Many thanks for the timely analysis. Since the EPAs definitely soured the 2007 Africa-EU Summit and also hampered economic talks at the Tripoli Summit in 2010, the timing of the EU negotiators’ reinterpretation of “substantial liberalisation” definitely seems influenced by a desire to ensure productive discussions on trade at the upcoming Summit. The optimist in me would even see a tacit recognition on the part of the EU negotiators that trade policy goes beyond promoting commercial interests.

In your further analysis it may also be useful to refer to the Agriculture Commissioner’s recent proposal to stop export subsidies to EPA signatory countries, as analysed here by Alan Matthews: http://capreform.eu/export-refunds-and-africa/?utm_source=hootsuite&utm_campaign=hootsuite


2 Bruce January 29, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Interesting developments and an interesting post. An additional question to add relates to implementation - agreeing and signing an EPA are clearly one thing, implementing as quite another as the CARIFORUM EPA hints. Does the agreement include monitoring mechanisms to be put in place to see i) the degree to which commitments are adhered to (on both sides) and ii) the impact the agreement actually has on trade and development?


3 Isabelle Ramdoo January 29, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Interesting point indeed, although of course we assume that when negotiations are agreed, they are done so in good faith and that parties will respect their engagements. But more broadly, the question of implementation is always a challenge, including for more developed countries. Take the case of the crisis here in Europe - non respect of the fundamentals of the Maastricht treaty ultimately led to unsustainable fiscal situations in a number of countries. At the WTO, the number of dispute settlement cases also show how countries do not always go by their commitments. And there are many other cases that could be raised on non-implementation of commitments.


4 Pawel February 5, 2014 at 11:44 pm

I’ve just been wondering to what extent 2013 EPA will be similar to EPA from 2007, negotiated under different regime (i.e. without involvement of EP). I’m also would like to know what kind of stipulations, regarding public procurement in Nigeria as federal country, (if any) will be in the final text.


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