Antananarivo, Sunday, October 16, 2016: Progress on the full Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations between Eastern and Southern Africa Group and the European Union has been modest although significant work has been undertaken in addressing outstanding issues.

According to a report presented to the COMESA Council of Ministers so far four ESA countries are already in advanced stages of preparing their Market Access Offers. This follows technical assistance provided by COMESA Secretariat to attain critical number of offers and to help trigger the resumption of full EPA negotiations.

Chairperson of the EPA/ESA Council who is also the Minister of Trade and Consumption of Madagascar, Honorable Armand Tazafy said after a decade since the EPA negotiations began, it was now prudent that the ESA group takes time to reflect on progress made.

“Let us take stock of the outcomes of the process against initial expectations,” he said. “This is particularly so in light of recent dynamics where new initiatives such as the COMESA/EAC/SADC Tripartite and the Continental Free Trade Area are beginning to unfold in a way that will help to consolidate regional and continental markets in Africa.”

Speaking when he opened the 24th EPA/ESA Council meeting at the Ivato International Conference Centre in Antananarivo, the Minister observed that the development of friendly agreement can serve as a vehicle for the delivery of jobs, incomes, and business and trade opportunities.

“When the membership of the ESA Group agreed to enter into an EPA and negotiate with the EU, the spirit was to allow the EPA to support the ESA region’s economic performance and progress and to enhance the environment of competitiveness in the configuration,” Hon. Tazafy said.

He said the ESA Group needs to ensure that the negotiations process for a full EPA must be inclusive, and should take into account interests and development conditions of all Members of ESA including those that have signed the interim-EPA and those that are yet to accede to a full, inclusive and comprehensive EPA.

It is in this regard, he said,  the ESA-EU EPA framework of negotiations should be able to factor in a spirit of the principle of variable geometry if and when necessary.

“This will provide policy space to some Members that may need it to advance, while actively participating in negotiations,” said the Minister.