The EU has signed an important trade agreement with Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Madagascar and Seychelles. Two more countries, Zambia and Comoros, have indicated they will sign at a later date.
The agreement is a first step towards a full Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The signing ceremony took place in Mauritius with the participation of Gunnar Wieslander, State Secretary for Trade at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs as representative of the Swedish Presidency of the EU. The EU Trade Commissioner, Catherine Ashton, participated on behalf of the European Commission. The six countries of Eastern and Southern Africa were in turn represented by the corresponding ministers.
“As representative of the Swedish Presidency of the EU, I am very proud today to be able to sign this important trade agreement with Eastern and Southern Africa,” said State Secretary Wieslander. “Trade plays a significant role in promoting growth and development, not least in a region with such potential as Eastern and Southern Africa.”
EU agreements on development assistance and trade benefits with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States have historically been formalised in unilateral preferential trade agreements. The World Trade Organisation set 31 December 2007 as a deadline for the EU and the ACP States to enter into a trade agreement compatible with international trade regulations.
As a result of that deadline, the EU and the ACP States are therefore negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA). The Eastern and Southern Africa group is a regional grouping in these negotiations. To prevent a deterioration in the tariff situation after the end of 2007, the EU and the Eastern and Southern Africa group agreed in November 2007 on an interim agreement covering trade in goods, which also includes a development component. The parties also state that they seek to cooperate in other trade-related areas in the continued negotiations for a comprehensive EPA.
Other countries in the region chose not to sign the interim agreement. This was mainly due to the fact that these countries are regarded as Least Developed Countries and as a result already covered by the EU tariff system of duty-free quota-free imports to the EU.