ACP officials meet prior to talks with EU Trade Commissioner

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Monday October 7, 2013, CMC – Caribbean trade officials are meeting in Brussels for talks with their African and Pacific counterparts ahead of a meeting with the European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht on Friday.

The meeting, which began Monday, will focus on a collective African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) declaration for the upcoming World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting in December as well as progress on the ACP-EU Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), and an EU initiative on mineral sourcing from conflict-affected areas.

ACP and EU representatives will also jointly review the future path for the decade-long EPAs negotiations, which continues to stall over technical obstacles.

ACP-EU trade regime issues such as impact of EU trade deals with third parties on ACP trade, non-tariff measures, and commodities trade such as sugar, bananas, tuna, tobacco and kava, have also been placed on the agenda.

The weeklong programme begins with meetings by ACP senior officials, followed by two days of discussions amongst ACP trade ministers. It will be followed by the ACP-EU Joint Ministerial Trade Committee (JMTC) with the EU Trade Commissioner.

In his address to the start of the meetings on Monday, ACP Secretary General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni said the presence of delegates from as far as the Caribbean was “a demonstration of the importance that your respective governments and regional organizations attach to this meeting and, in particular, to ACP-EU trade relations”.

He said that the ACP believes the “identified issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency, since they are so critical to the good of our ACP-EU trade relations”.

He said the ultimate objectives of the ACP meetings are to prepare the ACP Group’s participation at the Ninth WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Indonesia as well as to strengthen trade cooperation and partnership between the ACP Group of States and the European Union.

He said the meeting is expected to discuss the EPA process in a bid to “take the agenda forward.

“More than anyone else, we earnestly desire to remove this thorn in our flesh, so that ACP-EU relations can enjoy a new lease of life.

“With regard to the recent EU’s amendment of the EC Market Access Regulation 1528/2007 which withdraws certain countries involved in the EPA process, as from 1 October 2014, your meeting will have to deliberate and recommend a strategy on the way forward for the affected countries.”

Muhammad Mumuni said the ACP was rather dismayed by the unilateral action by the European Union partners on this matter.

“Although the setting up of the regulation was done by the EC, it was based on developments in the EPA negotiations involving both the ACP and EC Parties at the time. Thereafter, it became a joint issue and any amendment to it should have been agreed by the two parties.

“What the ACP feared came to pass namely that the amendment to EC Market Access Regulation 1528/2007 has become the key complicating factor in the EPA negotiations,” he added.

The ACP Secretary General said other issues for consideration would include the EC negotiations of free trade agreements (FTAs) with third countries.

“While the EC has provided brief updates on this issue during our various joint meetings, a key problem has been the inability to independently assess the impact of these new agreements on ACP-EU trade. Perhaps the situation will become clearer upon the commencement of the implementation of these agreements.”

The Secretary General said he was also disappointed at the level of intra-ACP trade.

“Tere is definitely a lot we can do to expand trade among our regional communities. I invite you to exercise your minds on what needs to be done to increase and diversify intra-ACP trade,” he added.

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