That Dáil Éireann approves the terms of the Economic Partnership Agreement between the CARIFORUM States, of the one part, and the European Community and its Member States, of the other part, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 15 June 2015.
I am pleased that my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, had an opportunity to have a detailed discussion on the two agreements with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade last week. The complexity of these agreements is such that they lend themselves to being discussed in committee. The select committee engaged in a strong and robust debate on them. It has completed its consideration of the agreements, which are now before the House for approval. These two motions seek Dáil approval of the terms of the EU’s economic partnership agreements with 15 Caribbean countries and 16 west African states and their two regional economic organisations.
These two agreements are significant as they are the first full economic partnership agreements to be signed between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific, or ACP, countries. It is important to note the context which led to these agreements. Historically, ACP countries benefited from unilateral trade preferences with the EU. However, such preferences were deemed to violate World Trade Organization rules on the basis that they established unfair discrimination between developing countries. In 2000, the EU and 78 ACP states concluded an agreement known as the Cotonou Agreement, which provided for a new trade and development framework based on economic partnership agreements. This new type of multilateral agreement combined trade and wider development issues in a unified framework and contained reciprocal preferences in trade between the EU and the ACP states. On this basis, the World Trade Organization agreed in 2001 to give a waiver to the EU to continue the unilateral preferences until 31 December 2007 when these agreements were expected to come into effect.
These economic partnership agreements are pioneering agreements in the international trading system. They are the first genuinely comprehensive north-south trade agreements that seek to promote sustainable development, build a regional market among developing countries and help eliminate poverty. The agreements seek to put trade at the service of development. The EU’s trade and development partnership with the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries stretches back more than 30 years. These agreements build on that partnership. The aim is to make it easier for people and businesses from the EU, the Caribbean and west Africa to invest in and trade with each other and thereby help Caribbean and west African countries to grow their economies and create jobs.
The original intention was for the EU to conclude comprehensive economic partnership agreements with the six regional groupings of the ACP states. Following protracted and difficult negotiations, only the Caribbean was in a position to initial a full economic partnership agreement before the December 2007 deadline. Some 21 other ACP countries initialled interim agreements in smaller subgroups or individually. In west Africa, two interim economic partnership agreements were concluded with Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The interim agreements have been acting as building blocks to full economic partnership agreements, negotiations on which have been ongoing in Africa and the Pacific. Last year, a full economic partnership agreement was signed with west Africa and negotiations were concluded on two full economic partnership agreements with the economic partnership agreement states in the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community.
The Caribbean agreement was signed in 2008 and entered into provisional application on 29 December 2008. As of now it has been ratified by 17 EU member states and eight CARIFORUM states. Last year, the ministerial joint council on the Caribbean economic partnership agreement reviewed the first five years of the implementation of that agreement. It concluded that the economic partnership agreement has tremendous potential for contributing to the sustainable development of CARIFORUM states. Ratification by all CARIFORUM and EU states was one of the key issues identified for action. Approval of the agreement today will ensure Ireland plays its part in this process.
The west African agreement was signed by Ireland on 12 December 2014 and in west Africa on 15 December 2014. All EU member states and 13 of the 16 west African states have signed it. Both agreements ensure duty and quota-free access for Caribbean and west African products into the EU. They involve partial, gradual and controlled liberalisation of EU exports to the Caribbean and west Africa. They allow for permanent protection of sensitive Caribbean and west African products, especially agricultural products. The agreements also contain safeguards to deal with the possibility of disturbances to local markets, food security and infant industry. Under the agreements, Caribbean and west African countries benefit from improved rules of origin that support the development of industries that import materials to make goods for onward export to Europe.
A key innovation of these agreements is the recognition that our developing country partners need assistance to build their trade capacity to reap the opportunities the agreements offer. This is why they provide for development support for their implementation. This is already being provided and will continue through the European Development Fund and the development instruments of member states.
In conclusion, I am happy to move these two motions for approval. These agreements present a strategy to assist our Caribbean and west African partners to build larger markets, to foster trade in goods and services and stimulate investment. They reaffirm the EU's commitment to a close trade and development partnership with these two regions.