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From Yaounde Convention to Cotonou Agreement

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The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between CARICOM countries and the Dominican Republic (together referred to as CARIFORUM) and the European Union, which has been the subject of much discussion and debate in recent months, had its original links as far back as the Treaty of Rome which established the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957.{{more}}

During the first five years of the Treaty, most of the overseas territories of the original six EEC member states had become independent nations, and in July 1963, Yaounde, the capital of Cameroun, was the venue for the first Convention between the EEC and the associated states it became known as the First Yaounde. Eighteen African states, attended the convention with representatives of the EEC, and the agreement signed for duty free exports ran from 1964 to 1969. This was followed by Yaounde Two which ended in 1975.

In the intervening years when Britain joined the Community, the same privileges were extended to the Caribbean countries, whereby each member granted to the associated countries the same trade concession which it granted to other community states.

Enter the Lome Convention in 1975. The EEC then agreed to abandon reciprocity which meant that all nine countries gave access to industrial products and to farm goods that did not compete direct with EEC farm products, while the ACP countries would not be obliged to reciprocate in similar fashion. This principle was quite acceptable in the prevailing environment. Relations between the European Union and the African Caribbean + Pacific States were becoming a particularly important aspect of the EU development policy and from 1975 to 2000 these relations were governed under the Lome Convention.

The Cotonou Agreement is a treaty between the European Union and the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific states (ACP countries). It was signed in June 2000 in Cotonou, the largest city in Benin by the 79 ACP countries and the then fifteen Member States of the European Union. it entered into force in 2003. The aim of the Cotonou Agreement is the reduction and eventual eradication of poverty while contributing to sustainable development and to the gradual integration of ACP countries into the world economy.

And now to the European Partnership Agreements (EPA), these are schemes to create a free trade area between the European Union and the ACP countries. They have been introduced in response to continuing criticism by countries, including Latin America, that the non-reciprocal and discriminating preferential trade agreements offered by the EU are incompatible with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ bananas being a case in point.

The EPA s are a key element of the Cotonou Agreement. They involve the phased removal of all trade preferences which have been established between the EU and ACP countries since 1975, as well as the progressive removal of trade barriers between partners. The Caribbean region is moving towards agreement on a comprehensive EPA which includes goods services and other trade related areas. EPA s involve gradual liberalization for periods of up to 25 years. They also allow for up to 20% of sectors to be excluded from any liberalization, so that certain sensitive products could always be protected.

There has been a call in some quarters for renegotiation of the Agreement but some countries, including Barbados and the Bahamas, believe that renegotiation is not an option at this late stage and, more important, the 25 year Phase-in-period for the elimination of tariffs is reasonable and unmatched in any modern trade agreement.

Nevertheless, there has been a brief postponement by CARICOM countries in their deadline for signing the Agreement to allow for further discussion.

With all its imperfections there seems to be a majority of countries in favour of signing the Agreement as the significant benefits from signing will far outweigh the disadvantages of not participating in the Agreement, if we work diligently within the context of the 25 years Phase-in-period.

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