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2008 AEC - Interim Economic Partnership Agreements point to the classic Regional Trade Agreements after all: Should African countries really be worried?
Were African countries caught off-guard when they agreed to sign interim Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) towards the end of 2007? Are African countries hiding their head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich as they negotiate comprehensive EPAs? These are some of the crucial questions that need to be answered in order to understand the dynamics of the EPAs negotiations and the direction they are likely to take as pressure builds for countries and regions that initialed interim agreements to sign and ratify them and for those countries and regions that did not initial to expeditiously conclude comprehensive agreements. In a departure from some previous studies on the EPAs negotiations that have focused on economic analysis; this paper starts from the premise that for the EU, the EPAs are international trade policy tools in the same line as its previous regional trade agreements (RTAs). In order to support the premise that the EPAs are classical RTAs after all, the paper provides results of a legal audit of the interim EPA agreements that were signed in the different African regions, despite there being in existence a common African position on the minimum elements of the agreements. In particular, the paper zeroes in on the African common position with respect to some of the issues such as the regional integration agenda, and argues that in a globalizing world, EU national interests could have overridden the African Union integration agenda leading to the fragmentation of the previously defined EPA groupings. By looking at the legal provisions of the interim agreements, the paper shows that the balance is tipped in favour of the trade elements with weak development provisions, as one would expect from a framework that from a strategic point of view is framed to eventually create free trade areas.