EU ready to lower trade barriers with ex-colonies
The European Commission said Monday, for the first time, that it would be ready to lower the bar in trade talks with the 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific rim countries making up the so-called ACP group.
The Commission's trade directorate chief David O'Sullivan told members of the European Parliament that Brussels would be prepared to reduce its ambitions on services oriented agreements and focus only on a goods deal.
"Given the state of the negotiations we will probably not be able to conclude -- and that is an understatement -- six full all-singing all-dancing EPAs (Economic Partnership Agreements) by the end of the year," he said.
"But we are willing to look at the possibility of concluding a goods-only arrangement to ensure that the trade flows continue or improve beyond January 1, 2008 if it is possible."
The ACP countries and the European Union are struggling to clinch new agreements by the end of the year, when current preferential market access is due to expire.
Existing trade agreements giving preferential market access to the former colonies have to be replaced by the end of the year because the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled that they were illegal.
The Commission, which negotiates trade deals on behalf of the 27 EU nations, is conducting the talks with regions because of the large number of countries involved.
With the year-end deadline looming ever larger, the EU sought in April to boost the negotiations with an offer to scrap all tariffs and quotas on ACP countries' exports with the exception of sugar and rice.
The agreements are supposed to help ACP countries develop while they diversify their economies and meet WTO requirements that they allow for some opening of their markets to European goods and services.