Contextualising the debate of the Africa–EU trade relations beyond the Cotonou Agreement
Trade between Europe and the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states has been guided by a set of non-reciprocal trade regimes for the past 30 years. The 1975 Lomé Convention and subsequently the 2000 Cotonou Agreement have guided the trade arrangements between the ACP countries and the European Union (EU). The Cotonou Agreement established the basis for the end of the non-reciprocal trade regime and for the negotiation of a reciprocal trade arrangement (the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)) between the ACP and the EU. According to the European Commission (EC), EPAs are meant to constitute an integral part of the implementation of the EU-ACP1 Partnership Agreement. They are regarded as integral because of their expected positive impact on development through trade in ACP regions and countries. With the initialling of interim EPAs covering trade in goods by the EU and 18 African countries, December 2007 marked a turning point in the long-standing trade relationship between Europe and Africa. Although international treaty law imposes no obligations on parties to an initialled agreement to apply the agreement as it is,2 there is political commitment on the parties not to defeat the object and purpose of such agreements. Implicitly, while initialling the agreement was arguably germane for the EU extension of preferences to the African ACP countries (AACP) beyond December 2007, certain provisions of the initialled agreements may still be re-negotiated. For instance, since December 2007, questions have been raised as to the relevance of certain provisions, such as the standstill and MFN clauses3 in most of the AACP-initialled EPAs. More generally, at least three issues are important for understanding the essence and implications of the evolving legal framework of trade regimes between the AACP countries and the EU. These are the merits associated with international trade, the evolution of regional trade agreements (RTAs) within the framework of the Multilateral Trade System (MTS), and the integration of development dimensions in international trade arrangements.