The six African countries threatened with losing access to the European single market have finally agreed to sign the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). But the continent’s regional integration may suffer as a result.
Kenya’s parliament has ratified the European Union EPA, signalling the end of a drawn-out struggle between several African countries and the European Commission, over the future of their trade relations with the EU. In July Brussels had upped the pressure on six African governments, threatening to suspend their single market access if they had not ratified the new agreements by 1 October.
Faced with a tax on their EU exports if they failed to cooperate, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Kenya all finally agreed to ratify their Economic Partnership Agreements, bringing the lengthy negotiation process to an end.
These EPAs replace the non-reciprocal trade agreements granted by the EU under the Cotonou agreement, signed in June 2000.
The aim is to maintain the preferential access to the European market enjoyed by the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, in return for reduced customs duties for European exports.
But the balance of the new agreements has attracted criticism from certain African countries, as well as civil society organisations, which say the dice are weighted in favour of the EU. The loss of customs revenue, coupled with competition from European products arriving on less development markets, is a major cause for concern.