A new trade deal, or deals, between Europe and countries in eastern and southern Africa look likely, but only because of fears over trade disruptions if no deal is done, a trade expert said.
The European Union wants to sign new economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with nearly 80 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions by next year, replacing existing deals deemed illegal by the World Trade Organization.
“What I personally see is that these countries will be forced to sign an interim arrangement,” David Ochieng, executive director of the non-profit Centre for International Trade and Investment Law, said.
Ochieng said the deals would be motivated by “fears of the disruption of trade and various warnings by the EU that something must be signed by the end of the year.’
Europe has warned that if no deals are reached by the end of the year, then it will have no legal choice but to reduce significantly the existing trade benefits for the region.
Ochieng, a Kenyan lawyer, said he had been tracking EPA issues for nearly four years and was present at discussions last month in Madagascar and Djibouti.
At the recent Djibouti meeting, the eastern and southern Africa (ESA) group of countries failed to come up with a united negotiating position ahead of top-level negotiations with Europe in Brussels, Ochieng said.
“If the ESA deal does not go as one, there is a high likelihood that these groups will sign something separately - the EAC, the CMMS, and the remaining groups,” he said, referring to the East African Community and the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles group.
Among these groups, Kenya, Mauritius, and the Seychelles are all considered relatively richer countries.
“Most of them will want to sign because there are fears of trade disruption,” Ochieng said by phone from Kenya.
Most countries in the ESA region are least developed countries (LDCs), benefiting from Europe’s Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative that gives them duty-free access into Europe on all products, except for arms and ammunition.
“The LDCs don’t have so much to lose from not signing anything ... but the LDCs are hanging in there because of the prospect of development support,” he said.
Ochieng said developing countries had pushed hard at the Djibouti meeting to reject any deal that did not include a development component.
But another obstacle to unity among the ESA group is their failure to agree on a limited number of sensitive goods that should be exempt from trade liberalization on the grounds of their overwhelming economic importance, he said. (Reuters)