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EU hopes to conclude EPA deal with ECOWAS soon

The European Commission (EC) is optimistic it will reach an agreement in the coming weeks with ECOWAS on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The European Union (EU) whishes to replace its long-running preferential trade arrangements with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations, which are not compliant with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules with the EPA.

"We are optimistic an agreement will be reached in the coming weeks. Good progress has been made though (but) there are still some challenges," said Dr Nicholas Westcott, Managing Director for Africa at the European External Action Service (EEAS) before a meeting in Accra to officially invite the Ghanaian President John Mahama to the fourth EU- Africa summit taking place in Brussels from April 2-3,2014.

The EU and ACP countries had until the end of 2007 to sign the EPA if they didn't want to lose their tax-free export access to the EU market. While many Caribbean states have ratified the EPA, the negotiations between the EU and ECOWAS have been held back by differences of opinion over issues such as how much of ECOWAS' market should be liberalized, and the so-called Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause which obliges ECOWAS states to extend to the EU any more favourable treatment they may grant to third-parties in a future trade agreement. To avoid losing their generous access to the EU market, Ghana, Cote D'Ivoire, and a few other countries signed an interim EPA as they waited for their respective regional blocs to iron-out differences with the EU.

The EC informed already in 2012 by that it will change its market access regulation - which allowed interim EPA to continue exporting to the EU quota-free and duty-free - and remove preferential access for countries that fail to ratify the EPA by the end of 2013.