Wednesday, 30 July 2014

SADC & West Africa conclude trade negotiations with EU, any IP provisions?

Following on from our recent post on GI for Rooibos (not forgetting the WTO TFA deadlock), this Leo wishes to round up that the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations between the South African Development Community (SADC), 16 West Africa countries, and the European Union have now concluded. The next stage for all parties is to sign and ratify their respective agreements.

For West Africa, the ECOWAS Heads of State have now endorsed their EPA and urged Member States to swiftly ratify and implement it. The other three regional trading blocs have a little bit to thrash out, albeit that one or a few of the countries within these blocs already have an interim EPA in place. To view the current stage for all the EPA negotiations, click here. [Afro Leo thinks that it’s easier to deal with a basket of oranges than deal with individual oranges, and that the European Commission would probably bite your hand off if you offered it an African Union deal]


EU-SADC EPA
Here are excerpts from the European Commission's press release after the acceptance by SADC:

"... It will be very important to consolidate this achievement by signing and ratifying the EPA as swiftly as possible, and no later than October 2016." [Oh, that's another deadline for you]

The members of the SADC EPA group will continue being able to shield sensitive sectors from European competitors in their domestic market. In addition, they can invoke a number of safeguards incorporated in the agreement. This will offer them all the necessary flexibility, so that trade can work for and not against development. Following the same logic, the EU has also taken a commitment to refrain from subsidising its agricultural exports to the region.

In their mutual interest, the EU and South Africa have also reached an agreement to protect a short list of 251 EU geographical indications (GIs) in South Africa and 105 South Africa GIs in the EU. Each side's GIs will benefit from high-level protection while allowing coexistence for already registered trademarks. The EU is also committed to cooperate in the development of geographical indications with the other partners in the EPA...” [Well, South Africa’s Trade and Industry Minister, Mr. Rob Davies, is generally satisfied that this deal will be beneficial to his country’s agricultural sector. Anyway, the EU Commission is planning to extend GI protection to non-agricultural products]

EU-West Africa EPA
Here are excerpts from the European Commission's press release after the acceptance by the 16 West African countries:

“...The agreement fully takes into account the differences in the level of development between the two regions. The EU will provide West African firms with conditions that are more advantageous than those that apply to European exports to Africa. 

In the negotiations, the EU committed itself to open its market to all West African products as soon as the agreement enters into force. In exchange, the EU accepted a partial and gradual opening of the West African market. Only if and when West Africa will be ready to grant more far-reaching concessions to the Europe's main competitors, will the EU be able to claim those same improvements. [The U.S. takes a swipe at the EU? "...European companies have preferential access to Africa’s markets while we are giving African firms preferential access to the U.S. market..."]

Under the terms of the agreement, West Africa will continue to be able to shield its sensitive agricultural products from European competition either by keeping tariffs in place or, when necessary, by imposing safeguard measures. To support local agricultural production, the EU has also agreed not to subsidise any of its agricultural exports to West Africa.

West African companies will also have more flexibility to use foreign components while still benefitting from free access to the EU market.

The EU will complement the market opening effort of the West African partners with a generous development assistance package...”  

Commentary
This Leo didn't spot any substantive talk or mention of IP. However, looking at previous agreements such as the CARIFORUM-EU EPA, the interim EPA with Cameroon; and the mention of GIs for SADC, one should expect a fair bit of IP provisions in the final text. If SADC and ECOWAS countries have not already wrapped up the IP provisions, then lessons could be learnt from the CARIFORUM-EU EPA. In any case, one would expect any IP provisions to be in accordance with the EU’s IP policy towards least-developing and developing countries.

Lastly, despite the positive statements above, some experts have criticised the EPA - including the October 2014 deadline set for African countries to agree - as detrimental to African economic integration, and their interests with other trading partners. There is also the concern that African countries will lose tax revenues and policymaking sovereignty. Whichever side one sits, the EU Commission was/is quite clear about the objectives of the EPA, one of which is opening up markets. Whether the EPA is more advantageous to the EU countries than African countries will be widely debated. 

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Further reading
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For a history of the EPA, visit here, here and here
Interim SADC-EU EPA is here
EU doesn’t have the resources to police trade agreements here
Can African countries benefit from GIs? See here and here
Case study for GI in South Africa here and Rooibos is here
IP provisions in EU trade agreements and implications for developing countries, here

Last Updated: 30/07/2014 at 14:00 BST

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