THE EU IGNORES A REGIONAL AGREEMENT
By ABOUDI OTTOU, US Africa News. Updated 2015-06-20
Is the European Union (EU) really still interested in a regional Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Central Africa now that Cameroon has ratified its EPA commitment? Faced with this question, the EU delegation chief in Cameroon used political parlance: "Regional integration is one of the major components of the European policy of cooperation and this is one of the principal objectives of the EPAs,” was all Francois Collet indicated. But Karel De Gucht, Commerce Commissioner for the European Union, had already unveiled Brussels’ intentions. "The economic partnership agreement with Cameroon opens a new era in relations between the EU and Central Africa....I very strongly encourage other countries in the region to join Cameroon in the EU-Central Africa EPA in order to build a partnership geared toward the development objectives of Central Africa," he responded in July 2014, following Cameroon’s ratification. Clearly, the EU wants to replace the regional EPA which, is still in the negotiation stage, for Cameroon.
The Cameroon agreement is indeed better for Europeans than their proposals for Central Africa (CA). In particular, it provides for a gradual opening over a term of 15 years, of 80% of the Cameroonian market to European products, without constraint (for the EU) of accompanying measures such as capacity building and support at the firm level, compensation for net fiscal losses, etc. Articles 10 and 12, which deal with the development component of the agreement with Cameroon, include revision clauses—in other words, for subsequent negotiations.
The Central Africa agreement, meanwhile, proposes to open markets at a much lower rate. At the 34th session of the Regional Committee for Coordination of Negotiations (NCRC) of the EPA between CA and the EU, which took place from April 20 to 24 in Douala, its president, Chadian Pascal Youbi-Lagha reaffirmed this: "We believe that we can open around 60% if we go further, perhaps to open 65% or 70% maximum. But you can not open at 80%. This rate is too high relative to the level of development of some of our states." The Commissioner Common Market of the Commission of the Community of State of Central Africa (CEMAC) also admitted this. And contrary to the Cameroon agreement, Central Africa wants the dismantling to take place over 20 years. The CA also requires accompanying measures be materialized in the agreement.
It was due to the inability to reach an agreement with the European side on these different aspects that negotiations were suspended in September 2011. The break was to enable negotiators to acquire new mandates to advance the negotiations, but also to jointly evaluate the net fiscal impact of the EPA on the economies of Central African countries and formulate programs to support regional development in the context of the EPA. But since at least the beginning of 2014, the EU would no longer provide updates. On the occasion of the 31st session of NCRC, held in N'Djamena Chad from 25 to 29 August 2014, Youbi-Lagha was "worried about the lack of reactions from the European Commission partners solicited for joint actions" as stated in the copy of the report of the session that we obtained. "We have been asked by Central Africa to review basic statistics (to be used in assessing the net fiscal impact note)" admits one member of the EU Delegation in Cameroon.
However, our source says that the EU is not complying with this request, being absorbed in the negotiations from October 1,2014—the date of cessation of non-reciprocal preferences accord granted by the EU to the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries which have not concluded an EPA. In fact, even if the 28 CA countries say they want to "move forward in the negotiations...as soon as possible," they do not believe it will conclude in a regional agreement with Central Africa. To justify this pessimism, a European official evoked the fact that the integration process has made very little progress in Central Africa compared, for example, to West Africa, which concluded a regional EPA with the EU. Another argument is the existence of several trade regimes between the countries negotiating configuration of the AC and the EU. According to a report by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation, to date there are four commercial plans: Cameroon's interim EPA, The Generalized Preference System (GSP), the "Everything but Arms" plan, and the system of most favor nation (MFN). Countries such as Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome, who benefit from the "everything except arms" plan, will continue to test their products (whether or not EPA with the EU is reached) on the European market without paying customs duties until their level of development removes them from such a trade scheme. Equatorial Guinea, for example, indicates it does not want to hear about Sao Tome, as they are minimally involved in the negotiations. Both countries refused to take charge of the NCRC meetings, respectively in July and September 2014.
These meetings are preparatory to resuming negotiations with the EU, which some countries, such as Cameroon, would like to see resume quickly.
On Monday, May 3, at the opening of the 34th session of the NCRC, Cameroon, through the voice of Gilbert Didier Edoa (representative of the Minister of Economy, Planning and Management--Minepat) expressed the hope that the meeting in Douala would target core activities to make the regional EPA effective before the end of the year. Aware that bilateral EPA signed with the EU threatens integration in Central Africa (because it would co-exist two common external Rates (Tec) within the CEMAC customs union [Tec Cameroon and Tec Cemac), the country is trying to maneuver to the conclusion of a regional agreement that would replace the bilateral agreement before the beginning of the dismantling of its customs barriers under it. The Cameroon minister fights, in addition to dismantling it originally planned to start in 2010, according to the dismantling schedule contained in the agreement stage or rejected in 2016. His main argument is Article 98 paragraph 2, which states that "The present Agreement shall enter into force on the first day of the month following the month in which the last instrument of ratification, acceptance or approval shall be notified to the depositaries of the Agreement." Having therefore notified the ratification of the agreement to the EU in July 2014, the minister believes that date also marks the beginning of implementation of the agreement. And as expected in the agreement, the dismantling should take place after a transitional period of two years--that is to say in 2016
However, the European Union, having launched a fast track for the implementation of this agreement, does not see it that way. Based on the dismantling schedule planned with Article 21 paragraph 4, which runs from 2008 in 2023, the EU said in a statement signed after the ratification of this agreement by Cameroon, that "the agreement will come into force on 4 August 2014 "and that" Cameroon will gradually open its market to European exports during a planned a transitional period until 2023." This means that Europeans want the lifting of tariffs on European products entering Cameroon to take place immediately, in a more accelerated way. In February 2015, in a letter addressed to Minepat, the Commission of the European Union reiterated this position. Asked repeatedly about the subject, the Ambassador, delegation head of the European Union in Cameroon, responded each time that the issue will be discussed in the EPA Committee. The EPA Committee is a body "responsible for the administration of all areas covered by this Agreement and the achievement of all the tasks mentioned in this Agreement," under Article 92 paragraph 2. In its eagerness to have the agreement implemented, the Union is not concerned with respecting the subtleties of Cameroonian administrative law. It lobbied the Cameroonian Minepat Minister the EPA Committee that the EPA be a single joint decision between Minepat and the EU-delegation in Cameroon, without waiting for the conclusions of the working group on the legal language established by the monitoring committee, with bilateral EPA-EU Cameroon implementation--a committee that is supposed to determine which is the ideal instrument to use for the implementation of the EPA Committee.