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New EU trade deal offers total free market access to ACP states

The European Union on Wednesday said it was ready to remove all quotas and tariffs on farm and industrial goods exported to the 27-nation bloc by African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states.

The wide-ranging EU trade offer also calls on the 77 ACP states to open up their markets to EU goods - but over a longer period, giving the countries time to adapt to free trade. ACP governments will be able to protect sensitive products where the removal of import duties could threaten local producers. The EU proposal, part of current negotiations on a so-called economic partnership pact between the EU and ACP states, covers agricultural products like beef, dairy, cereals and all fruit and vegetables which are currently subject to EU market restrictions.

Officials said the EU was ready to implement the offer as of January 1, 2008, with a phase-in period for rice and sugar. South Africa, which has a separate free trade agreement with the EU, is not covered by the new deal. As such, officials said several South African „globally competitive products” will continue to pay import duties in the EU. Under current EU arrangements, only 40 least developed ACP states have tariff-free and quota-free access to the EU. The new deal extends the favorable regime to all ACP states. Officials said this would encourage neighboring ACP countries to cooperate in building regional markets and supply chains.

The European Commission fended off critics who say that instead of negotiating a free trade deal with ACP states, the EU should continue the current Cotonou Agreement which does not demand market-opening reciprocity from poor nations. EU officials said WTO rules required a change in the Cotonou arrangement and that a WTO waiver or exception for the agreement would run out at the end of 2007. Officials also contended that the more modern trade arrangement under negotiation would help boost regional cooperation in Africa and said that ACP governments should not be too concerned about losing income from the elimination of tariffs. „Replacing customs tariffs by other sources of fiscal revenue is a reform most countries have made,” said an EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity. He also rejected charges that farmers and industrialists in ACP states would lose out because of EU exports to the region. „The idea that ACP countries are always threatened by imports is is healthy for countries, including developing countries, to take in new imports,” the official said.

The EU is negotiating economic partnership deals with 6 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions, including the Caribbean, West Africa, East and Southern Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa and the Pacific. (