The Minister of National Development, Mr. Jacquelin Dugasse, led a 7-member Seychelles’ delegation to the Joint Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) – Economic Commission (EC) Ministerial Meeting held on 12th November 2007, in Brussels
Minister Dugasse was representing the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Patrick Pillay.
Other members of the Seychelles’ delegation included Ambassador Barry Faure; Miss. Vivianne Fock-Tave, Special Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs; Mr. Charles Morin, Director General for Trade in the Ministry of Finance and Trade; Mr. Philippe Michaud, Technical Adviser, Miss Beryl Samson, Director General, and Miss Audrey Dine, Principal Economist, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ESA ministers met a day earlier for preparations which was preceded by joint ESA-EC technical discussions from 6th – 8th November, and negotiations at the ambassadorial level on 9th November.
This joint ESA-EC ministerial meeting was supposed to represent the final round of negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) given that the deadline for concluding negotiations on a full-scope EPA is 31st December 2007.
However, the ESA Group and the EC are unable to conclude EPA negotiations on time.
The two sides had earlier in the year recognised the difficulty to conclude negotiations on the full-scope EPA within the set deadline and had therefore agreed to focus efforts on concluding at least the market access and the development components of the EPA, and to continue negotiations on the remaining areas in year 2008.
This phased-in EPA plan was unfortunately not able to produce the results required for an agreement to be reached on the two respective components within the set deadline.
It is to be noted here that this situation also reflects the state of affairs in the other ACP regions that are negotiating an EPA with the EU.
Aware that the absence of an agreement on the market access effectively in place on 1st January 2008 would affect the trade (exports) of ACP non-LDCs to the EU market – in view that their exports would no longer benefit from tariff preferences (zero duty) – the EU has very recently put forward a proposed interim arrangement that essentially focuses on trade in goods and offers duty-free and quota-free market access to ACP (including ESA) products.
The interim arrangement will be in place for the period of time required to complete a full-scope EPA, and will be replaced by the latter when concluded.
Only countries that sign the interim agreement and make a market access offer to the EU that is compatible with the relevant rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will be able to benefit from the interim arrangement.
The interim arrangement requires the approval of the European Council in the form of a regulation.
The joint ESA-EC Ministerial meeting, and the meetings that preceded it, therefore, focused on discussing the interim arrangement itself, its parameters and other important elements such as its duration which has been put to one (1) year ending 31 December 2008, as well as the way forward.
A joint sub-committee has been mandated to finalise the draft interim agreement in the least delay.
Countries wishing to be part of the interim arrangement will be able to initial the agreement on 23rd November 2007 in Brussels.
The related regulation, with the list of signatory countries annexed to it, is expected to be considered by the European Council during its last session for the year, on the 10th December 2007.
As per the Declaration of the IOC Council which was adopted on 10th October 2007 on Ste. Anne Island in Seychelles at its 1st extraordinary meeting on the EPA negotiations, Comoros, Mauritius, Madagascar, and Seychelles (known as the CMMS sub-group) submitted a collective market access offer to the EC.
The CMMS sub-group discussed the collective market access offer with the EC at the technical level on 7th November, and the feedback received is positive in that the CMMS market access offer is acceptable.
Having been able to make a WTO-compatible market access offer to the EU, and concerned by the disastrous socio-economic effects of a trade-disruption scenario for Mauritius and Seychelles – the two non-LDCs – the CMMS countries will be joining the interim arrangement which has been agreed to be kept within the framework of the ESA configuration.
Negotiation on the full-scope EPA will be resumed as from the 1st January 2008 and expected to be concluded by the 31st December 2008.
The CMMS sub-group had the opportunity to have preparatory meetings, including at the ministerial level, in Brussels in the margins of the ESA-EC meetings, as well as to discuss the role of CMMS in the EPA negotiations.
It has been agreed that the CMMS sub-group should play a catalytic and locomotive role in the EPA process, and participate with one voice with regard to issues of common interest especially issues relating to the development needs of island states.
The CMMS sub-group will have the opportunity to meet and take stock of the progress of negotiations in the margins of future ESA preparatory meetings.