In 2000, the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, otherwise known as the ACP group, adopted the Cotonou Agreement, which is a framework treaty on trade, aid and political cooperation. It replaced the previous Lomé Convention, providing for a general set of privileged relations between the EU and the ACP countries in matters of market access, technical assistance and other issues. The objective is to facilitate the economic and political integration of the ACP countries into a liberalised world market over the next 20 years.

Under the Cotonou Agreement, the parties agreed to negotiate a separate set of individual bilateral treaties between the EU and the participating ACP countries. Those individual arrangements, dubbed "Economic Partnership Agreements", would provide specific rights and obligations tailored to six arbitrarily defined clusters of countries (West Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, Central Africa, SADC, the Caribbean and the Pacific). The EPAs are meant to be comprehensive free trade agreements, laced with rhetoric about "development" and "regional integration".

The negotiations on these EPAs started in September 2002 and were supposed to be completed by 31 December 2007, as a WTO waiver on the non-compatibility of the EU’s preferential trade relations with ACP countries would expire by then. (The EU pushed "WTO compatibility" as a frame for the talks and ACP countries accepted it.) As the talks advanced, ACP governments became caught between a rock and a hard place. They wanted the bits of market access that the EPAs offered, but would have to pay an extremely high price in terms of loss of customs revenue, destabilisation of their economies from the expected flood of EU imports, unclear financial aid commitments from Brussels, reduced political autonomy, etc. Civil society, labour unions and business groups in the ACP countries studied the implications and came out with vigourous campaigns to stop the signing of the EPAs.

The 31 December 2007 deadline for the EPAs to be signed came and went with much drama. A number of states — including Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire — initialled interim EPAs before the deadline. Others, like Senegal, swore they would not sign until development concerns were seriously taken on board. In 2008, negotiations continued to secure full acceptance of interim EPAs and move them towards agreed comprehensive EPAs. A state of play as of October 2009 (courtesy of Marc Maes at 11.11.11) is provided below:

EU-ACP sub-group status of agreement
Caribbean • full EPA initialled in Dec 2007 and signed in October 2008 (but not by Haiti) and approved by the European Parliament (March 2009)
Central Africa • interim EPA initialled (Dec 2007) and signed by Cameroon only (January 2009)
• 7 countries have not initialled anything yet
West Africa • interim EPA initialled (Dec 2007) and signed by Cote d’Ivoire (Nov 2008) and approved by the European Parliament (March 2009)
• interim EPA initialled by Ghana (Dec 2007)
• 14 countries have not initalled anything yet
East Africa • interim EPA initialled by Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Mauritius, Comoros, Madagascar, Zambia (Nov-Dec 2007) and signed by Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar only (August 2009)
• interim EPA initialled by East African Community members Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda (Nov 2007)
• 5 countries have not initialled anything yet
Southern Africa • interim EPA initialled by Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Mozambique (Nov-Dec 2007) and signed by Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique only (June 2009)
• Angola has not initialled anything yet
Pacific • interim EPA initialled by Papua New Guinea and Fiji (Nov 2007) and signed by Papua New Guinea only (July 2009)
• 13 countries have not initialled anything yet

A more recent state of play produced by the EU Commission and dated 12 June 2012, can be found here:

last update: May 2012

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  • ACP Secretariat webpage on EPA negotiations
  • Africa-Europe: What alternatives?
    A meeting of networks, researchers, NGOs and civil society groups in Lisbon, 7-9 December 2007
    Site web de la CEDEAO sur l’APE Afrique de l’Ouest-Union Européenne
  • Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery
    Speeches from the Signing Ceremony of the CARIFORUM-EC EPA
  • EPA Watch
    This website, run by an NGO in Belgium, is meant as an instrument to monitor the trade negotiations between the European Union and the ACP countries which will take place between 2002 and 2008 with the aim of concluding Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).
  • EPA Watch EU
    CSO news and activities around Economic Partnership Agreements
  • EPA-07
    Information and co-ordination for the international campaign against the EU-ACP EPAs in 2007
  • European Commission webpage on EPA negotiations
  • European Research Office
    ERO is a not for profit non governmental research unit specialising in the analysis of issues faced in Southern Africa’s trade, aid and agricultural sector relations with the European Union (EU).
    Complete dossier on the CARIFORUM-EU EPA, including Text of the Agreements, critical analysis of its provisions, news items and citizens initiatives to Renegotiate the EPA
    The Pacific Regional Economic Integration Programme (PACREIP) enhances the capacity of Pacific ACP States to support regional economic integration, preparation and conduct of negotiations of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), as well as the effective operation of the Pacific Islands Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA).
    Plateforme Haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif, en lutte contre les APE
  • Price WaterhouseCoopers SIA of the EPAs
    Price WaterhouseCoopers was contracted by the European Union to produce a ’Sustainability Impact Assessment’ of the new Economic Partnership Agreements between the ACP & the GCC States and the EU
    This website aims to facilitate a large coalition of ACP and EU civil society organisations aiming at stopping the EU’s current approach in negotiating free trade agreements with the countries of the ACP.
  • The EPA Exposed
    Under the EPAs we are about to become the consumers to a master-supplier in a master servant relationship.
  • Tralac - EPAs website
    tralac’s website on the EPA negotiations