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Africa’s Position on EPAs Reiterated!

I recently returned from Maastricht in the Netherlands, where I attended the 32nd Board Meeting of the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) on 19th -20th September 2013.
ECDPM is an independent foundation, established in 1986, as a “think and do tank”. It’s main goal today is to broker effective development partnerships between the EU and the Global South, particularly Africa, by focusing on major challenges in international cooperation. ECDPM’s mission has two components: (i) to strengthen the policy management capacity of institutions and other players in the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific and (ii) to improve relations between the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. ECDPM uses a combination of roles and methods to link policies and practice; it organises and facilitates policy dialogues, provides tailored analysis and advice, disseminates timely information, participates in South-North networks and carries out policy-oriented research with partners from the South. The Centre also supports institutions in the developing world to define their own policy and development agendas. Among the topics reflected upon by the recent board meeting was along the lines of the intricate relations between Africa and EU on the subject of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). As most people are aware, Namibia is one of the many countries that have found it untenable to endorse EPAs in their current form, with the EU, based on the fact that the presented EPA will not be favourable to Namibia’s sustainable socio-economic development. During the Board Meeting, serious concern was raised on both sides (Africa/EU) on the subject. As with regard to Europe, the insensitivity it demonstrates towards the serious concerns raised in Africa on the EPA process (more the process than the content), was discussed and reflected on seriously. Concerning the Africa position, the influence of the rapid development of Africa (Africa on the move), the new actors taking an ever increasing share of attention and the increasing self-confidence influences the attitude towards Europe.
The forthcoming Africa-EU Summit is scheduled to take place in Brussels in April 2014. Based on the serious concerns on the present state of affairs, on EPAs in particular, and a continued worsening of the overall relationship, the discussions turned to finding possible ways of redressing the course of events. Points made were that ECDPM should continue and increase its work to produce documentation on what the failures of regional agreements on EPAs could lead to even if they would be seen as controversial and that ECDPM should work out a brief, draft opinion article, to be used by members of the ECDPM Board and like-minded researchers and activists. This article would be published all over Europe, with the purpose being to increase awareness of high-ranking policy makers on the risks of pursuing the current approach. Because of the seriousness of the concerns on the African continent surrounding EPAs, the EU is skeptical that the EPA discussion may take centre stage or top the agenda during the forthcoming Africa-EU Summit at the expense of any other items on the would-be agenda.

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