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Trade

Economic Partnerships

Economic Partnership Agreements are trade and development agreements negotiated between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and regions.

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African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP)
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Economic Partnerships

The Cotonou Agreement

The EU’s trade relationship with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries is governed by the Cotonou Partnership Agreement signed in 2000 between the EU, its Member States and ACP countries. As this comprehensive political, economic and development partnership was due to expire in 2020, the Parties have negotiated a successor agreement (the so-called ‘Post-Cotonou Agreement’), which was initialled by the chief negotiators on 15 April 2021.

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement will remain in force until the Post-Cotonou Agreement kicks in. The timing depends on the EU Council of Ministers approving the signature and application of the agreement, as proposed by the Commission in June 2021.

The Cotonou agreement offers EU and ACP countries the opportunity to negotiate development-oriented free trade arrangements called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). The EPAs are firmly anchored in the objectives of sustainable development, human rights and development cooperation that are at the core of the Cotonou Agreement.

Economic Partnership Agreements in a nutshell

The EU is the biggest trading partner of the ACP group of countries, with 21.1% of their total trade flows.

  • Seven Economic Partnership Agreements are in application with 32 out of 79 ACP countries. These include 14 Caribbean countries, 14 African countries and four Pacific countries. Another 21 countries have concluded regional EPA negotiations that are yet to be implementedOther ACP countries benefit from privileged access to the EU via the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), mostly using the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.
  • EPAs are WTO-compatible agreements. They go beyond conventional free-trade agreements to focus on ACP countries’ development, taking account of their socio-economic circumstances. They include co-operation and assistance (for example, in areas such as sanitary norms and standards) to help EPA countries benefit from the agreements.
  • EPAs are tailor-made to suit specific regional circumstances.
  • EPAs open the EU’s markets to EPA countries immediately. EPA partners do not pay tariffs or duties on their exports to the EU, while they open their markets only partially to the EU (on average 80%), with long transition periods for doing so.
  • EPAs create joint institutions that monitor the implementation of the agreements and address trade issues in a cooperative way.
  • EPAs are drivers of change that contribute to reform and good economic governance. 

Find out more about EPAs in this factsheet, as well as the top 10 benefits of EPAs for partner countries and for sustainable development.

EPAs: leveraging trade and investment for sustainable development

The overall objective of EPAs is to contribute through trade to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction in ACP countries.

EPAs include the following features that go beyond access to EU markets:

  • A partnership of equals: EPAs are permanent partnerships that encourage a progressive shift from aid to trade and investment as engines of growth, jobs and poverty reduction. They entail rights and obligations for both EU and ACP countries.
  • Free access to the EU market: EPAs offer zero tariffs and unlimited quantities (duty and quota-free) for all products (except for arms).
  • Flexible rules of origin: EPAs also have flexible conditions (rules of origin) under which exporters in EPA countries can more easily source from elsewhere the inputs they need to make their final products without losing their free access to the EU.
  • Better access to EPA countries’ markets for EU goods: through partial liberalisation with long transition periods and safeguard measures, to be activated if surges in imports of EU products disturb local markets.
  • Strengthen competitiveness and promote industrialisation: EPAs support ACP countries' efforts to develop new industries and diversify their economies by shifting their reliance on commodities to higher-value products and services.
  • Attract investment: EPAs contribute to a stable and conducive investment climate by providing certainty on trade rules governing exports and imports from the EU. This helps to attract foreign investors to establish production in a given country.
  • Encourage regional integration: EPAs aim to contribute to regional economic integration by linking smaller markets in larger EPA regions that were established by the ACP countries themselves.
  • Aid for Trade: EU trade policy and development cooperation mutually reinforce one another. Through its Aid for Trade initiative, the EU supports partner countries in preparing and implementing regional and bilateral trade. Aid for Trade strengthens ACP countries’ trade policy capacity, and enhances private sector development via access to finance, skills, services, infrastructure and other inputs that help SMEs to become competitive in global markets.

The focus is currently on implementing the EPAs and extending their scope.

  • Implementing EPAs: Once an EPA has been signed and ratified and applies, the focus of the process moves to implementation. This means putting the partnership into practice, to enable the private sector and consumers alike to reap the benefits of these agreements. EPAs are already delivering business benefits in the countries concerned, ranging from textiles from Madagascar, grapes from Namibia and processed fish from Papua New Guinea to medical instruments from Mauritius.
  • Read more on each EPA’s status of implementation in the EU’s Annual FTA Implementation and Enforcement Report and Staff Working Document, or consult the latter’s sections on the EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) EPA, EU-Eastern and Southern Africa EPA: Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Zimbabwe and Comoros – the so-called ‘ESA 5’, EU-Cote d’Ivoire EPA, EU-Ghana EPA, EU-Cameroon EPA, EU-Cariforum EPA, and EU-Pacific EPA).
  • Extending the scope of EPAs: Modernising ('deepening') the EPAs and enabling more countries to reap their benefits (‘widening’) by:
    • Supporting accession to EPAs by interested parties. For example, Samoa joined the EU-Pacific EPA in 2018; the Solomon Islands joined in 2020; and accession processes are underway with Niue, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Comoros joined the EU-Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) EPA in 2019. Angola has requested accession to the EU-SADC EPA.
    • Adding more issues to EPAs – for example, trade in services, investment, trade and sustainable development – to upgrade them to modern and comprehensive trade agreements, such as during ongoing negotiations to modernise the EPA with five Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA-5) countries, which were launched in October 2019.

EPAs in Africa: Towards a continental vision

In Africa, EPAs support the implementation of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs, launched in September 2018. They are key tools of the EU’s Comprehensive Strategy with Africa. The economic pillar of this strategy identifies trade – alongside regional and continental economic integration – as major elements to promote the sustainable development of African countries. The 2021 Trade Policy Review Communication confirms that Africa is of particular importance to the EU’s trade policy.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are currently 14 countries implementing an EPA. Most other countries benefit from preferential unilateral schemes.

EPAs with Sub-Saharan African countries and other EU free trade agreements with Northern African countries contribute to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and to the long-term perspective of a continent-to-continent free trade agreement. EPAs already contain useful trade tools for building the AfCFTA. They constitute a solid framework for regional trade and investment between EPA partners themselves, as well as with the EU. They also reinforce the trade capacity of EU partners.

The pursuit of sustainable investment agreements with Africa aims to step up engagement with African partners to help unlock their economic potential, foster economic diversification, and promote inclusive growth. Agreements such as the EU-Angola sustainable investment facilitation agreement concluded in November 2022 are designed to further enhance sustainable trade and investment links between both continents and within Africa itself.  

The 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries

Angola – Antigua and Barbuda – Belize – Cape Verde – Comoros – Bahamas – Barbados – Benin – Botswana – Burkina Faso – Burundi – Cameroon – Central African Republic – Chad – Congo (Brazzaville) – Congo (Kinshasa) – Cook Islands – Cote d'Ivoire – Cuba – Djibouti – Dominica – Dominican Republic – Eritrea – Eswatini – Ethiopia – Fiji – Gabon – Gambia – Ghana – Grenada – Republic of Guinea – Guinea-Bissau – Equatorial Guinea – Guyana – Haiti – Jamaica – Kenya – Kiribati – Lesotho – Liberia – Madagascar – Malawi – Maldives – Mali – Marshall Islands – Mauritania – Mauritius – Micronesia – Mozambique – Namibia – Nauru – Niger – Nigeria – Niue – Palau – Papua New Guinea – Rwanda – St. Kitts and Nevis – St. Lucia – St. Vincent and the Grenadines – Solomon Islands – Samoa – Sao Tome and Principe – Senegal – Seychelles – Sierra Leone – Somalia – Sudan – Suriname – Tanzania – Timor-Leste – Togo – Tonga – Trinidad and Tobago – Tuvalu – Uganda – Vanuatu – Zambia – Zimbabwe

ACP-EU trade in figures

  • Total trade between the EU and ACP countries was worth €226 billion in 2022, with a surplus in ACP countries' favour of €23 billion.
  • Total trade has almost doubled since 2010, and grew by 47.7% between 2021 and 2022.  
  • The EU is ACP countries' biggest trade partner, with 21.1% of their total trade flows.
  • EU share of ACP exports: 22.1%
  • EU share of ACP imports: 20.2%

Committees and Dialogues

EPA partners meet regularly to discuss the implementation of the agreements.

Meetings and documents on implementation:

Implementation overview:

Regional EPA pages

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