Trade committee MEPs called on the Commission on Thursday to give struggling African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries two more years for negotiations on their Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) before withdrawing their free access to the EU market.
The committee voted to extend the 2014 deadline proposed by the Commission and give these ACP countries until 2016 to ratify their EPAs before losing the right to duty-and-quota-free access to the EU that they have been enjoying since 2007.
36 ACP countries have been able to access EU markets freely under the Market Access Regulation since the EU negotiated EPAs with them in 2007, even though they were not ready to apply the EPAs in full and ratify them. Today, a number of them have still not taken the steps needed to ratify their EPAs. The Commission therefore wants to switch eight of them to other, less advantageous, preference schemes.
Longer deadline needed
These eight countries are Botswana and Namibia plus six poorer countries, namely Cameroon, Fiji, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Swaziland. MEPs say these countries are still grappling with development needs and poverty and would be hit by sharply reduced access to EU markets and therefore need until 2016 to prepare for the EPAs.
"2014 is simply not a fair or realistic deadline for these ACP countries to have finalised and ratified EPAs",said the rapporteur, David Martin (S&D, UK), while noting that unlimited preferences was not a sustainable option either.
Another nine ACP countries - the poorest in the group - will not be affected by the new arrangements as they continue to benefit from the EU's Everything But Arms (EBA) duty-free, quota-free scheme for the least-developed countries. They are Burundi, Comoros, Haiti, Lesotho, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Possibility of re-instating the benefits
Under the Commission's proposal, any of the countries concerned could be re-instated in the Market Access Regulation through a fast-track procedure if they decided to take steps to ratify their EPAs. The committee says Parliament's experts should be invited to the meetings dealing with ratification measures.
The draft legislative resolution was passed by 25 votes to 2, with 2 abstentions.
In the chair : Vital MOREIRA (S&D, PT)