The European Union (EU) has concluded the first round of negotiations with five Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) countries – including clothing producers Madagascar and Mauritius – to deepen the existing Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

Both sides are aiming for an ambitious and modern agreement including the whole spectrum of trade topics and building upon the existing agreements covering market access for goods and development cooperation.

Since the initial agreement started to apply in 2012, exports of goods from the five ESA countries – which include Comoros, Seychelles and Zimbabwe – to the EU have increased by almost a quarter, reaching nearly EUR2.8bn (US$3.07bn) in 2018. European businesses are also increasingly investing in the region.

During the first round of negotiations, which began in October last year, the partners organised future work and had substantive initial text-based discussions on five chapters: rules of origin, customs and trade facilitation, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary standards and agriculture.

The second round is expected to take place before the summer break, in Brussels. As part of its transparency commitment, a report summarising the progress made during the round, as well as the texts tabled by the EU, will be published on the European Commission’s website in the near future.

The deepening of the existing EPA was launched at a political level on 2 October 2019. The process comes in the context of the current EU-Africa Strategy and supports the implementation of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs launched in September 2018.

By deepening the current trade relations, the EU also seeks to support regional integration within the continent and preparations for making the African Continental Free Trade Area operational.

The EU is the number one trading partner for the five ESA countries. In addition to improving the business and investment environment, a comprehensive free trade agreement would stimulate the economies of the five ESA countries, for instance by diversifying their exports to the EU. The process would also support the implementation of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs launched in September 2018.

Moreover, it would promote both regional economic integration, for instance by developing regional value chains, and continental integration by furthering the ESA five countries’ preparedness for implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) under the African Union. Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) are one of the building blocks towards the future AfCFTA.