Ploumen seeks to get European trade negotiations with Africa back on track

Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, is seeking to revive negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and three African regions. To achieve this she wants to bring the European Commission and the African partners closer together, she wrote in a letter to parliament last Thursday.

‘Successful negotiations are crucial,’ said the Minister. ‘If they fail, the curtain will fall on 1 October 2014 and businesses in countries like Namibia and Botswana will no longer have free access to the EU market. That would take a heavy toll on their economies at a time when they are enjoying rapid growth, pulling more and more people out of poverty.’

Later this month, Ms Ploumen will bring the urgency of the EPA negotiations to the attention of her fellow EU trade ministers and European Commissioner Karel De Gught. The talks fall within the exclusive competence of the European Commission.

The Minister will also discuss the matter as soon as possible with the key players from Southern Africa, West Africa and East Africa, starting at the African Union Summit later this month. The Netherlands will help organise stakeholder meetings in the regions concerned to give the negotiations a fresh impetus.
‘Because aid and trade are combined in my portfolio, the Netherlands is able to take on the role of honest broker,’ said Ms Ploumen. ‘We’ve no time to lose. 1 October 2014 will be here before we know it.’ 

In 1975, 78 former colonies of EU countries (ACP states) were offered favourable trade rules. However, this ‘positive discrimination’ is unfair to exporters from low- and middle-income countries and goes against the rules agreed in the World Trade Organization (WTO).  The WTO has condemned the EU for this practice on several occasions. In 2000, the EU therefore decided to replace the scheme by free trade agreements that satisfy WTO requirements and meet the wishes of the ACP countries to not fall back on the General System of Preferences (GSP), which applies to all developing countries but is less favourable to ACP members. Within the WTO boundaries, these trade agreements specifically take into account the development level of the ACP countries to give their economies a fair chance to grow, generate jobs and create prosperity at all levels of society.