Grand Baie, 29 August 2009 - The European Union has signed an interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with countries from the Eastern and Southern Africa regional grouping (ESA). These countries are Mauritius, Seychelles, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar. Zambia and Comoros have indicated they will sign at a later date. The agreement was signed in Grand Baie, Mauritius, by EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton and Swedish deputy trade minister Gunnar Wieslander on behalf of the EU.
The deal offers the ESA countries that signed the agreement immediate and full access to EU markets (with transition periods for rice and sugar), together with improved rules of origin. ESA countries will open their markets gradually over the next 15 years, with a number of important exceptions reflecting their development needs.
Commissioner Ashton said “We now have the foundation to build a more comprehensive trade partnership that will support the ESA region’s work to build diverse and sustainable economies. This agreement brings a diverse region together under a single trade arrangement with the EU, tailored to the specific needs of the region and recognising its diversity."
Commissioner Ashton met with ministers from a wider group of ESA states to discuss elements of this comprehensive trade partnership, which would cover issues like services, investment, agriculture, technical standards, trade facilitation and trade-related rules. Discussions covered key issues such as protection for infant industries and export duties and both sides agreed to press forward with negotiations without delay.
The trade and development partnership
All imports from the countries that signed the interim EPA have benefited from duty and quota free access to the EU since 1st January 2008 (with short transition periods for rice and sugar). These countries will now liberalise their markets to EU imports over the next 15 years, gradually removing tariffs on between 80% and 98% of imports from the EU depending on the country. Among the products excluded from liberalisation are sensitive agricultural and manufactured products such as milk, meat, vegetables, textiles, footwear and clothing.
Other regional countries like Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi and Sudan are involved in ongoing negotiations for the more comprehensive regional agreement and may join the agreement later. As Least Developed Countries they have duty free access to EU markets under the EU Everything But Arms trade arrangement and do not need to submit a market access offer to sign the agreement and benefit from its development cooperation and fisheries provisions while negotiations towards the more comprehensive deal continue.
Background: EU - ESA Trade in Goods
In 2008 total EU imports from the ESA group were approximately €3.2bn, or 0.20% of all EU imports, comprising mainly of textiles and clothing, sugar, fish products and copper. Last year, EU exports to the ESA Group consisted mostly of mechanical and electrical machinery and vehicles, and totaled €4.3bn.