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Economic Partnership Agreements

Volume 475: debated on Wednesday 30 April 2008

We anticipate that the economic partnership agreements that have been agreed with 35 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries will be signed formally over the next 18 months. We will provide aid for trade support to help those ACP countries implement and benefit from the new opportunities provided by EPAs.

The Prime Minister has said that poor countries must be allowed the flexibility to decide, plan and sequence their own trade reforms. However, an analysis last week by Oxfam showed that the interim economic partnership agreements that were hastily concluded in December could mean that Africa loses $360 million each year in tariff cuts. Does the Minister think that an independent evaluation of the EPAs should be made with an eye to revisiting problem areas before the deals are finally signed?

I was at a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development meeting in Ghana last week and had the opportunity to discuss the interim EPAs that have been initialled by many of the non-least developed countries, and also to discuss EPAs with LDCs. There was significant support from several of those countries for the interim EPAs. The hon. Lady is right to note that some countries have highlighted one or two issues, and we want the Commission to continue to show flexibility in responding to those concerns. We need to recognise that the duty and quota-free access offer that the Commission has made to non-LDCs is a significant step forward and that many of the ACP countries, such as Botswana and some Caribbean countries, have been warmly supportive of the efforts that the Commission has made to help them with better trading opportunities in the European Union.

What are the Government doing to help African countries to trade with one another by reducing the tariffs that they impose on one another and strengthening the infrastructure to allow transport links from one African country to another?

My hon. Friend makes a good point about the importance of regional integration. We continue to highlight that as one of the potential benefits of moving from interim economic partnership agreements to full regional economic partnership agreements. As I said in my previous answer, we continue to encourage the Commission to show additional flexibility so that we can move from the interim EPAs that have been signed with individual countries to full regional EPAs over the coming months.

Order. Before I start Prime Minister’s Question Time, may I point out that it is only right and fitting that hon. Members should be heard when they are putting questions? Sustained shouting looks bad and it is not good for the reputation of the House. I have already had a quiet word with Mr. Campbell.