Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are a scheme to create a free trade area (FTA) between the European Union and other countries. They are a response to continuing criticism that the non-reciprocal and discriminating preferential trade agreements offered by the EU are incompatible with WTO rules. The EPAs date back to the signing of the Cotonou Agreement. The EPAs with the different regions are at different states of play. The EU has signed EPAs with the following countries: the Southern African Development Community (SADC), ECOWAS (16 states), six countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, Cameroon, four Pacific states, and the CARIFORUM states.[1] Their defining characteristic is that they open up exports to the EU immediately, while exports to the partner regions is opened up only partially and over transitioning periods.[2]

Following the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the United Kingdom duplicated eight EPAs, such as with Cameroon, Ghana, the Caribbean, and the pacific states.[3]

There is also an EU-Japan EPA, which is however symmetrical in opening markets, and thus only an EPA in name; similarly the UK–Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement is only an EPA in name for the same reason.

Key elements


Due to the continuing WTO incompatibility of previous arrangements, the EPAs' key feature is their reciprocity and their non-discriminatory nature. They involve the phased out removal of all trade preferences which have been established between the EU and the ACP countries since 1975 as well as the progressive removal of trade barriers between the partners. In order to fulfil the criterion of being a non-discriminatory agreement, the EPAs are open to all developing countries,[citation needed] thereby effectively terminating the ACP group as the main development partner of the EU.

The establishment of a reciprocal trade agreement confronts the EU with the problem of how to reconcile the special status of the ACP group with the EU's obligations to the WTO. The solution proposed for this dilemma is an agreement which is only as reciprocal as necessary to fulfil WTO criteria. In reality, the ACP countries will have some room to manoeuvre and to maintain some limited protection of their most vital products. The extent to which trade must be liberalised under the new EPAs is still a widely debated issue and it remains to be seen whether the WTO provisions regulating regional trade agreements will be revised in favour of the EPA scheme at the end of the Doha Round.


True to the Cotonou principle of differentiation and regionalisation the developing countries are encouraged to enter into the EPAs in regional groupings. So far the ACP countries have formed seven [4] regional groupings in which they intend to enter into EPAs with the European Union. These regional groupings are

Special treatment

The new regional grouping established due to the EPA scheme causes the problem of how to reconcile this approach with the previous special treatment of the group of least developed countries (LDCs) among the ACP countries. Currently, 40 of the 79 ACP countries are defined as LDCs by the United Nations. The LDCs constitute a special group among the developing countries and have usually been treated separately.

Therefore, the EPAs will provide special arrangements for this particular group. As opposed to the other ACP countries, the group of LDCs will be invited to reject the EPAs and continue trade relations under the "Everything But Arms" (EBA) regulation. Launched in 2001 by the Council of Ministers, this amendment to the EC's Generalized System of Preferences has since then regulated the trade relations between the EU and the LDCs that have chosen to use this facility, granting duty-free access to all products from LDCs without any quantitative restrictions – except to arms and munitions. While this provision facilitates the situation of the LDCs under the new trade scheme, it has also been criticised because the EBA initiative prevents LDCs from opening up their markets for EU products within the context of an EPA. Another weakness of the EBA initiative is that it utilises the rules of origin of the GSP which require double stage transformation for textiles and clothing. The rules of origin of the EPAs on the other hand allows single stage transformation for the exports of these sectors. This is one of the reasons why Mozambique and Lesotho (both LDCs) initialled the SADC EU Interim EPA in November 2007, and then went on to sign this agreement in July 2009. Angola (the other LDC in the SADC EPA configuration) has chosen to continue trading under EBA as their main exports to the EU are oil and diamonds which as 'wholly obtained' originating products enjoy duty and quota free entry under the EBA rules of origin.

Predicted impact

Researchers at the Overseas Development Institute predict the impact of the EPAs, however, to be rather minimal.[9] Because most African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group states already enjoyed duty and tariff free access of about €1.4 billion from the Cotonou Agreement that expired in 2007, there was little new that could be offered.[9] The expected impact described by the ODI:[9]

British Agreements

Following the Brexit referendum, the United Kingdom replicated eight of the European EPAs in order to achieve trade continuity with EPA countries following Brexit. These agreements duplicate the majority of its clauses and text from the European agreements. The following agreements, with countries and regions, were entered into force following Brexit:

See also


  1. ^ "EU Trade agreements". Retrieved 29 August 2022.
  2. ^ "Access2Markets Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)". Retrieved 29 August 2022.
  3. ^ "The UK's trade agreements". GOV.UK. 2 March 2020. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  4. ^ "Africa, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) - Trade - European Commission". Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  5. ^ "Commission de la Communauté Economique et Monétaire de l'Afrique Centrale (CEMAC)". Archived from the original on 10 March 2010. Retrieved 26 February 2010.
  6. ^ "East African Community - Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi". Archived from the original on 5 July 2014. Retrieved 19 July 2006.
  7. ^ "Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) - Trade - European Commission".
  8. ^ "CRNM - Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery". Archived from the original on 20 November 2008. Retrieved 22 February 2007.
  9. ^ a b c Christopher Stevens, Mareike Meyn and Jane Kennan (2010) Duty-free, quota-free access: What is it worth? Overseas Development Institute
  10. ^ "United Kingdom and Cameroon secure Economic Partnership Agreement '". GOV.UK. 30 December 2020. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
  11. ^ "UK and Cameroon secure Economic Partnership Agreement". Business Leader. 4 January 2021. Retrieved 26 November 2023.
  12. ^ Hollingbery, George (22 March 2019). "UK signs trade continuity agreement with Caribbean countries". GOV.UK. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  13. ^ "UK secures post-Brexit trade deal with group of Caribbean countries". The Guardian. 22 March 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  14. ^ "The United Kingdom and Côte d'Ivoire sign Economic Partnership Agreement". GOV.UK. 15 October 2020. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  15. ^ "The UK and Ivory Coast sign Economic Partnership Agreement". Business Leader. 20 October 2020. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  16. ^ Hollingbery, George (31 January 2019). "UK signs Eastern and Southern Africa trade continuity agreement". GOV.UK. Retrieved 10 December 2023.UK–ESA FTA
  17. ^ "UK Trade with Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) from 1 Jan 2021". African Business Chamber. 5 November 2020. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  18. ^ "UK signs Trade Partnership Agreement with Ghana". GOV.UK. 2 March 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  19. ^ "Ghana, UK to sign new trade agreement today". Ghanaian Times. 2 March 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  20. ^ "UK and Kenya secure a trade agreement". GOV.UK. 3 November 2020. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  21. ^ "UK-Kenya trade deal in jeopardy as mood in Nairobi turns outright hostile". City A.M. 5 March 2021. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  22. ^ "UK and Pacific Islands sign trade continuity agreement". GOV.UK. 14 March 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2023. UK–Pacific States FTA
  23. ^ "UK signs post-Brexit trade deal with Fiji and Papua New Guinea". The Guardian. 14 March 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  24. ^ Truss, Elizabeth (11 September 2019). "UK agreed trade continuity with 6 African nations". GOV.UK. Retrieved 10 December 2023.UK -SACU & Mozambique FTA
  25. ^ "Britain agrees post-Brexit trade deal with southern Africa". Reuters. 11 September 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2023.

Further reading