Highlights of ECDPM activities in support of Trade and regional integration in 2012

For an overview of publications and events in 2012, please click here

Trade policy

During a year that marked the 10th Anniversary of the ACP-EU Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) the mood was anything but celebratory given the lack of progress in the negotiations. At the Centre, we focused on maintaining our non-partisan analysis and mobilising a broad range of stakeholders to discuss possible ways forward in the discussions. Our monthly publication, GREAT Insights - with dedicated issues on Trade and Development and Preferential Trade Agreements - continued to be valued by many ACP and EU policy actors as one of the most reliable sources on the EPA negotiations.

At the request of a network of European NGOs, our trade team facilitated a debate on the theme “Is 10 years enough?” We were also invited to contribute to the informal network of EU member states, called “Friends of EPAs” in Brussels and conduct a one-day training on EPAs for staff of the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID). 

On the ACP side, we were invited to present an analysis of the status of negotiations and possible ways forward to various stakeholders, including the African Union EPA coordinating meeting in Kigali, Rwanda and the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Economic Development, Finance and Trade, in Brussels. For a meeting in Mauritius, we provided a comparison of the different EU preferential regimes for specific products. We also worked with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission as they developed a communication on the EPAs.

In the Caribbean, we facilitated consultations and joint analysis with our partners in the region on how to monitor progress in the implementation of the Caribbean-EU EPA, which was signed in 2008. This body of work has fed into broader research coordinated by United Nations University (UNU-CRIS) that is exploring how to monitor regional integration. 

Perhaps more importantly, ECDPM has conducted in-depth analysis and facilitated informal consultation for key EU member states on the new EU generalised system of preferences (GSP), adopted on 31 October 2012.

Regional integration

At their 2012 Summit, African Heads of State and government endorsed plans for a continental Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by 2017, sending a clear political signal that regional integration remains a key priority for the continent. To achieve this goal, the Summit approved an ambitious roadmap based on six key pillars and indicating the priority areas and allocation of responsibilities among responsible institutions. The first key milestone in the roadmap is the conclusion of the Tripartite Free Trade Area FTA that will bring three sub regional markets -the East African Community, Common Market for East and Southern Africa and the Southern African Development Community – under one umbrella by 2014. However the agenda is enormous and it is doubtful if any of the regional and national institutions involved have the capacity, or even the motivation, to move the process forward. This is evident in constant postponement of deadlines for key FTA building blocks, for example customs or monetary unions at sub-regional level. Together with our partners, therefore, we continued to identify opportunities to play a constructive role in further breaking down the integration objectives into achievable targets.

In collaboration with the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) we produced a scoping study in October that fed into an inception workshop coordinated by the Development Bank of Southern Africa. Sub-regional stakeholders defined a common research agenda, with a clear demand to look for concrete examples of where regional cooperation has had a positive impact on the lives of citizens and local businesses. 

We further disseminated our analysis of the role of EPAs on African regional integration at diverse fora including: the Conference on Global Europe in May; consultations on the new generation of EU’s preferential trade agreements; a meeting on research cooperation for sustainable regional integration in West Africa and Europe, held in Cape Verde in October; and the SEF Potsdam Dialogue on Trade: Potentials and Pitfalls for Regional Integration and Development in Africa. The November issue of GREAT Insights was entirely dedicated to analysing various options for regional integration. 

ECDPM also continued to partner with the African Union Commission (AUC) and Regional Economic Communities on a number of trade and regional integration initiatives. We were invited to participate at the African Union Heads of State and Government Summit, the Trade and Agricultural ministerial meetings in November and the AU-EU Joint trade and Customs Facilitation Forum in December. During the year, the trade team also maintained regular contact with the Inter-Regional Coordination Committee in relation to the mid-term review of the 10th European Development Fund.

Aid for trade 

While in certain circles the aid for trade (AfT) debate continues to focus on definitional approaches with the obvious linkages to the accounting of ODA and the actual additionality of the funding, or on the measuring of impact of AfT, the centre focussed its 2012 work programme on the regional dimensions of aid for trade. 

In collaboration with the COMESA Secretariat, we published a discussion paper reviewing the sub-region’s performance in implementing the Aid for Trade Agenda and some of the challenges ahead. The paper also made recommendations on how to enhance the success of AfT at the regional level. Building on this work the ECDPM trade team contributed to the ECOWAS AfT working group in Abuja in October, while SADC asked ECDPM to undertake a similar exercise in the sub region. Other spinoffs of this work were our contribution to the forthcoming Ashgate publication on Regional Aid for Trade in Africa and a joint study with the Gates foundation on trade corridors as a potential vehicle for channelling and coordinating regional aid for trade.

Building on our work in 2012, we have also expanded our focus to two key dimensions of trade and development. The first, stemming from our Discussion Paper on Rethinking Aid for Trade in the context of innovative financing, is innovative financing for development. This research stream focuses on how to leverage AfT resources through increased private investment. Secondly, building on the Centre’s work on regional agricultural markets for food security, we are exploring ways to establish linkages between the AfT debate and support for rural development, through such mechanisms as regional value chains and agricultural trade facilitation.