Eight African or Caribbean countries which currently enjoy free access to the EU market will have until 1 October 2014 to ratify mutual economic partnership agreements (EPAs) before their unilateral market access is withdrawn. The deadline was extended by 9 months under pressure from Parliament and voted on Tuesday.
"Granting unilateral free market access to specific countries is in breach of WTO rules and was clearly a temporary solution. I can agree that unlimited and unconditional preferences are not a sustainable option and the time has come to set a deadline. At the same time, some of those ACP countries considered the initially proposed expiry date of 1 January 2014 to be an ultimatum to push them into unsatisfactory agreements. This is not a trade and development relationship the EU seeks to have," said rapporteur David Martin before the vote.
Mr Martin argued that the withdrawal of market access would hit hard some of those countries, such as Botswana and Namibia, which do not benefit from any other EU trade preference scheme. Also, Kenya has expressed serious concerns about the significant impact on its economy, especially in the cut flowers industry which would face additional customs tariffs of 23 to24%.
The extended deadline was approved by 682 votes to 10, with 21 abstentions. Parliament had initially sought a two-year extension to allow these countries more time to prepare to for the EPAs, which require a mutual opening of markets. MEPs argued that this might create unequal competition between neighbours and harm the development goals.
Thirty-six ACP countries have been able to access EU markets freely under the Market Access Regulation since the EU negotiated EPAs with them in 2007.
The amendment of the regulation would only affect eight of them, namely Botswana, Namibia, Cameroon, Fiji, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya and Swaziland, which have failed to ratify the necessary EPAs. Others have either ratified the EPAs or 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.
Debate: 12 September 2012 Vote: Tuesday, 15 April 2013 Procedure: Ordinary Legislative Procedure, 2nd reading agreement