The EU-Central Africa Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) for trade and development between the EU and Cameroon will enter into force in the coming days following the recent ratification of the agreement by Cameroon. This ‘interim’ agreement will provide a sustainable guarantee of free access to the European market for any product originating in Cameroon and will foster an increase in trade and the diversification of Cameroon's economic activities.
EU Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht stated: ‘The economic partnership agreement with Cameroon is ushering a new era in relations between the EU and Central Africa. The EPA is one of the main cooperation tools to provide assistance to developing countries such as Cameroon in expanding their economies. I would very much encourage other countries in the region to join Cameroon in the EU Central Africa EPA in order to build a partnership suited to Central Africa's development goals.’
The interim economic partnership agreement provides for duty- and quota-free access to the EU market for exports from Cameroon. Cameroon, for its part, will gradually open its market to European exports over a transitional period set to run until 2023. A number of products will be excluded from the process in order to ensure the protection of Cameroon's agricultural markets and industries which it regards as sensitive. Furthermore, the agreement includes provisions on the trade defence instruments, dispute settlement and development cooperation.
This agreement constitutes a negotiated and sustainable framework for trade relations between the EU and Cameroon and provides greater security for Cameroon's exporters than the unilaterally set Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).
The interim EU-Central Africa EPA was concluded on 17 December 2007. It was signed by the EU and Cameroon on 15 January 2009. Cameroon ratified the EPA and notified its decision to the EU on 25 July. The agreement will enter into application on 4th August 2014. This application will be confirmed when all the EU Member States have completed their ratification process. Parliament approved the agreement back in June 2013.
The agreement is open to the other countries in the region (Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, São Tome é Principe and Chad) that wish to accede to it.
In 2000, under the Cotonou Agreement, the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the EU opted for more ambitious trade and development relations. These new relations must be developed as part of a negotiated partnership governed by predictable and stable rules and be accompanied by development cooperation actions. These actions aim in particular to strengthen the ACP countries' institutional and production capabilities and support the necessary adjustment processes. The EPAs also strive to contribute to regional integration by promoting regional markets.
Negotiations for these trade and development agreements provided for by the Cotonou Agreement were launched in 2002. The EU-Central Africa negotiation began in October 2003. However, at the end of 2007, it became clear that it would not be possible to finalise negotiations in all the ACP countries before the end of the Cotonou trade regime on 31 December 2007.
A series of interim agreements was thus concluded in order to prevent disruption due to the expiry on 31 December 2007 of the Cotonou trade regime for exports from ACP countries to the EU. From 1 January 2008, the countries which had concluded an interim EPA were able to keep free access to the European market for all their products, while still continuing their internal process for approval of these agreements. At the same time, it was possible to continue negotiations for full regional agreements without any time constraints.
Consequently, the interim economic partnership agreement between the EU and Central Africa ratified by Cameroon must be seen as the first step in a wider and more complete partnership, in line with the objectives of the ongoing regional negotiations between the EU and the Central African region. The aim is to conclude an agreement at regional level that supports sustainable development and fosters the region's integration.
The EPA could potentially go beyond trade in goods and cover services and investment, trade-related fields such as sustainable development, competition, trade facilitation and transparency in public procurement. These subjects are included in the interim economic partnership agreement as clauses which provide for them to be negotiated at a later stage.
A few figures on EU-Cameroon trade
In Central Africa, Cameroon is the EU's leading trade partner. The EU is Cameroon's leading partner for both the country's imports (35%) and exports (46%). The EU's main exports to Cameroon are industrial goods, vehicles, chemical products and medicines. Cameroon's main exports to the EU are petroleum products, aluminium, wood and agricultural products. Agricultural exports are varied and include raw products (cocoa, coffee, banana, rubber) and processed products (cocoa-based products, processed fruit and vegetable products).