The Cotonou agreement offers EU and ACP countries the opportunity to negotiate development-oriented free trade agreements, known as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). EPAs are firmly rooted in the goals of sustainable development, human rights and development cooperation, which are at the heart of the Cotonou agreement. The overall goal of EPAs is to contribute, through trade, to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction in ACP countries. The EPAs will therefore take specific steps for this specific group. Unlike other ACP countries, the smaller group is invited to reject EPAs and continue trade relations under the “Everything but Arms” (EBA) regulation. Launched in 2001 by the Council of Ministers, this change to the EC`s system of generalised preferences has since regulated trade relations between the EU and LDCs that have chosen to use this facility and allows all LDC products duty-free access to all LDC products, without any quantitative restrictions, except arms and ammunition. This provision, while facilitating the situation of LDCs under the new trading system, has also been criticised because the EBA initiative prevents LDCs from opening their markets to EU products under an EPA. Another weakness of the EBA initiative is that it uses the GSP`s rules of origin, which require a two-step transformation for textiles and clothing. On the other hand, the rules of origin of EPAs allow for a one-stage transformation of exports of these sectors. This is one of the reasons why Mozambique and Lesotho (both LDCs) signed the SADC INTERIMs EPA in November 2007 and signed in July 2009. Angola (which is not the least witnessed in the configuration of the CDAA EPA) has decided to continue its trade under the EBA, as its main exports to the EU are oil and diamonds, which can enter duty-free and quota-free as “fully preserved” origin products in accordance with the EBA`s rules of origin. Negotiations on economic partnership agreements can take years to conclude. The agreements address a detailed set of issues that all need to be balanced in order to bring benefits to all parties.
An agreement may be less difficult to reach between nations with a strong history of trade and cooperation, as was the case with the economic partnership agreements signed in 2007 by the European Union and the Asia-Caribbean and Pacific group. The creation of a reciprocal trade agreement puts the EU at the forefront of how to reconcile the ACP Group`s special status with the EU`s WTO commitments. The near-solution solution to this dilemma is an agreement that is reciprocal only in the way necessary to meet wto criteria. In reality, ACP countries will have some leeway and maintain limited protection of their key products. The extent to which trade should be liberalised under the new EPAs remains a highly controversial issue and it remains to be seen whether the WTO provisions governing regional trade agreements will be revised at the end of the Doha Round in favour of the EPA system. The European Union`s (EU) Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with regional blocs of African countries (and some African countries) aim to promote more than simply boosting trade between the EU and African countries. They aim to promote sustainable development and poverty reduction, including supporting regional integration processes in Africa, encouraging the gradual integration of African economies into global markets, and improving the ability of African countries to take advantage of trade opportunities for economic growth.