African nations risk losing tax-free access to Europe -EU official

Wed Mar 21, 2012 6:16pm GMT

* Talks to replace previous deal dragged on too long - official

* Activists want to bar more access for African countries

* EU plans to lock out those who have not signed by 2013

By George Obulutsa

NAIROBI, March 21 (Reuters) - Some African countries could lose tax-free access for exports to the European Union if they fail to sign a deal by next year to replace preferential agreements that the World Trade Organisation has rejected, an EU lawmaker said on Wednesday.

The European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries had until the end of 2007 to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) agreements to replace existing unilateral trade preferences, or risk having European trade disrupted.

Since then the EU's talks with most of the countries, especially those in Africa, have dragged on longer than planned as activists in Europe argued that the availability of more African products would hurt Europe's farming and manufacturing sectors.

Without a deal, countries like Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya - not classified as "least-developed countries" - will have to start paying duty of between 8.5 and 15.7 per cent on their exports to Europe.

Vital Moreira, chairman of the EU Parliament's International Trade Committee, said the EU Commission planned to change its Market Access Regulation, which if passed, would remove preferential access after January 2014 for any country that failed to ratify the EPA by the end of 2013.   Continued...

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