Sommaire: 27 May 2008, Brussels - Council of the European Union 2870th EXTERNAL RELATIONS Council meeting, 26 and 27 May
The Council adopted the following conclusions:
"1. The Council reaffirms its commitment to the ongoing process of negotiation, conclusion and implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs) as being development instruments. The Council emphasises that EPAs are WTO-compatible agreements aimed at supporting regional integration and promoting the gradual integration of the ACP economies into the world economy, thereby fostering their sustainable development and contributing to the overall effort to eradicate poverty in the ACP countries. In this context, the Council recalls and fully reconfirms its conclusions on EPAs of April 2006, May 2007 and November 2007.
2. The Council welcomes the initialling of a full regional EPA with CARIFORUM, as it considers that EPAs can act as a catalyst for regional integration processes and have the potential to fulfil the development objectives of economic and trade cooperation as set out in the Cotonou Agreement. In the other ACP regions, the initialling of interim agreements has averted the risk of trade disruption after the expiration of the Cotonou trade regime, improving access to the EU market with full duty free quota free access and more favourable rules of origin.
3. The Council firmly believes that the key objective remains to achieve EPAs with comprehensive regional coverage and wide scope, in agreement with our ACP partners and with due regard for their political choices, development priorities and administrative capacities, in order to release their entire development potential. It notes with satisfaction that, upon resumption of the discussions, the parties have underlined their common will to pursue negotiations aimed at such agreements. The Council welcomes and strongly supports this common effort. Acknowledging concerns expressed by ACP partners and the existence of, in some cases, problematic issues still outstanding in the negotiation, the Council underlines the need for a flexible approach while ensuring adequate progress, and calls on the Commission to use all WTO-compatible flexibility and asymmetry, in order to take account of different needs and levels of development of the ACP countries and regions. The Council emphasises that ACP countries and regions who so wish could draw, if appropriate, on provisions agreed by others in their EPA negotiation.
4. The Council believes that EPAs have the potential to play a key positive role in accompanying and supporting regional integration and in promoting development, and therefore encourages an effective conclusion of the negotiations, within agreed timeframes. The Council reaffirms that EPAs need to build upon, foster and support existing regional integration processes. Recognizing that the level of existing regional integration varies across the ACP regions, it also acknowledges that the scope of an EPA may differ from one region to the other. The Council recognises the value of a flexible and pragmatic approach when moving from interim agreements towards regional EPAs, and, in this context, ACP requests for adjustments will be taken into account where appropriate, to the benefit of regional integration. The Council underlines the need for an early notification at WTO of the interim agreements, after signature.
5. The Council holds that supporting regional integration is a key objective of the EU-ACP partnership as set out in the Cotonou Agreement. Support to regional integration in the ACP is motivated by the search for stabilisation of peace and prevention of conflicts, economic development through building up larger markets and the management of challenges with a trans-national dimension. In this context, the Council looks forward to the forthcoming Communication by the Commission on Regional Integration for Development in ACP countries.
6. The Council underlines the contribution EPAs can make as part of overall efforts to improve global food security by stimulating regional markets as well as investment, transport links and policy co-ordination, which can help boost agricultural production and reduce food and agricultural input price volatility, particularly in Africa. In this context, the Council recalls the Conclusions on Advancing African Agriculture of November 2007.
7. The Council recognizes that regional integration as well as EPAs may entail adjustments and reforms in ACP economies and policies. In order to help ACP regions, countries and local communities, including small producers, reap all their benefits, EU development assistance will accompany these processes. In this perspective, the Council recalls the adoption, in October 2007, of the EU Strategy on Aid for Trade (AfT), with the commitment that, in the context of the efforts to increase the collective EU trade related assistance1 to € 2 billion annually by 2010 (€ 1 billion from the Community, € 1 billion from the Member States); in the range of 50% of that increase will be available for the needs prioritised by the ACP countries, including those related to EPAs. The Council reconfirms these commitments and stresses the need of avoiding gaps in the geographical coverage of AfT and ensuring that all ACP regions receive a fair share of the AfT resources. The Council recalls that AfT is part of the broader ODA increase agenda and its delivery is not conditional upon signing an EPA or an interim agreement.
8. The Council is committed to implementing the EU AfT strategy in accordance with the principles of aid effectiveness, complementarity, division of labour and local ownership. It especially emphasises the need for enhanced coordination and increased predictability in the planning and delivery of AfT contributions, as they are essential for reaching the agreed level of ACP share in the collective increase of Trade Related Assistance (TRA) and for further stepping up efforts on the wider AfT agenda (productive capacity building, trade-related infrastructure, trade adjustment).
9. The Council encourages the Commission and the Member States to continue working together to this purpose, and welcomes the Commission initiative for the joint design with our ACP partners of specific EU Regional AfT packages for the ACP, including accompanying measures of regional EPAs, building on the 10th EDF regional programming process. These packages would be based on the following aims and principles: