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EU launches negotiations to deepen trade relations with Eastern and Southern Africa countries

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Today, in Mauritius, the EU started negotiations with five Eastern and Southern Africa partners (so-called ESA: Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe) to deepen the existing Economic Partnership Agreement. Given the positive results generated by the current agreement, now in its 8th year of implementation, the five countries have declared their readiness to move beyond trade in goods, towards a more comprehensive agreement. The EU has welcomed this step, especially in the context of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs.

Since the initial agreement started to apply in 2012, exports of goods from the five ESA countries to the EU have increased by almost a quarter, reaching nearly €2.8 billion in 2018. European businesses are also increasingly investing in the region. The new agreement should cover other important trade related areas and trade related rules, such as services, investment, technical barriers to trade, intellectual property rights as well as trade and sustainable development.

EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström said: “The ESA region is a pioneer for the whole of Africa as regards our trade partnership. The deepening of the current agreement will move our partnership to another level. It will boost bilateral trade and investment flows and will contribute to the creation of jobs and further economic growth in our respective regions while promoting sustainable development. The EU is fully behind this important endeavour”.

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.

At the request of the five ESA countries, the European Union has agreed to provide financial assistance for the setting up of an EPA Coordination Mechanism. Its aim is to ensure appropriate coordination and technical support to the five ESA countries so they can engage effectively in the negotiation process. The Coordination Mechanism has already contributed on the ESA side to the preparation of the scoping phase for the upcoming negotiations.

Background

Economic and Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are trade and development cooperation agreements that provide duty-free quota-free access to the EU market based on favourable rules of origin for the partners countries. They support export diversification, competitiveness and promote creation of local value chains.

Since the current interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA) with the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) states started applying in 2012, the exports by Madagascar to the EU have more than doubled. Seychelles have seen their exports increase by more than one third in the period 2012-2018. Exports by Zimbabwe to the EU have increased by 12% over the same period, while the country’s exports to the rest of the world have decreased. For Mauritius, the European Union remains the main destination for its exports, with for instance fisheries products seeing export gains.

In 2017, the four ESA states (Mauritius, Madagascar, Seychelles and Zimbabwe) requested the EU to start discussing the possible extension of the iEPA beyond the currently covered market access for goods and development cooperation. The aim was to include new trade-related areas and rules as provided for in the rendezvous clause foreseen in Article 53 of the EPA (i.e. so-called “deepening” process). Both parties agreed on the scope and objectives of this deepening before launching negotiations. In February 2019, after ratifying the iEPA, Comoros started to apply it provisionally, also joining the other four ESA states in the deepening process.

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EU Politics

EU and Qatar sign landmark aviation agreement

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The European Union and the State of Qatar today signed a comprehensive air transport agreement, upgrading rules and standards for flights between Qatar and the EU. The agreement sets a new global benchmark by committing both sides to fair competition, and by including social and environmental protection. The signing means new opportunities for consumers, airlines and airports in Qatar and the EU.

Qatar is an increasingly important aviation partner for the EU. It was the 15th largest extra-EU market in 2019 with 6.3 million passengers travelling between the EU and Qatar. Ensuring open and fair competition for air services between both is therefore crucial, also for routes between the EU and Asia.

Adina Vălean, Commissioner for mobility and transport, said: “This agreement, the first one between the EU and the Gulf region, is a global benchmark for forward-looking aviation agreements. It is testimony to our shared commitment to economically, socially and environmentally sustainable aviation, based on a modern framework covering fair competition and closer cooperation on social and environmental matters. This agreement will bring new opportunities, more choice and higher standards for passengers, industry and aviation workers.”

Today’s agreement creates a level playing field that is expected to result in new air transport opportunities and economic benefits for both sides:

  • All EU airlines will be able to operate direct flights from any airport in the EU to Qatar and vice versa for Qatari airlines.
  • EU airports in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands will be subject to a gradual build-up of capacity until 2024. For more details on this, see the Q&A.
  • Strong provisions on open and fair competition will guarantee a level playing field.
  • The parties recognised the importance of social matters, agreed to cooperate on these and to improve their respective social and labour laws and policies as per their international commitments.

The agreement will facilitate people-to-people contacts and expand commercial opportunities and trade. Going beyond traffic rights, the EU-Qatar agreement will provide a single set of rules, high standards and a platform for future cooperation on a wide range of aviation issues.

Background

Qatar is a close aviation partner for the European Union; more than 6 million passengers travelled between the EU and Qatar per year under the existing 26 bilateral air transport agreements with EU Member States prior to the pandemic. While direct flights between most EU Member States and Qatar have already been liberalised by those bilateral agreements, none of them include provisions on fair competition, or social and environmental issues, which the Commission considers essential for a modern aviation agreement.

In 2016, the European Commission obtained authorisation from the Council to negotiate an EU-level aviation agreement with Qatar, which started on 4 March 2019. While the agreement still needs to be ratified by the parties before formally entering into force, it will start being applied from today’s signature.

Similar EU comprehensive air transport agreements have been signed with other partner countries, namely the United States, Canada, the Western Balkans, Morocco, Georgia, Jordan, Moldova, Israel and Ukraine. Further air transport agreements with Armenia and Tunisia are expected to be signed in the coming weeks.

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EU Politics

Sakharov Prize 2021: the finalists

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The 2021 finalists for the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought are Afghan women, Jeanine Áñez and Alexei Navalny

The 2021 finalists for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought are Afghan women, Jeanine Áñez and Alexei Navalny.

Meet this year’s finalists of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, who were chosen at a joint meeting of the foreign affairs and development committees on 14 October:

  • Afghan women, represented by 11 human rights activists
  • Jeanine Áñez, Bolivian politician
  • Alexei Navalny, Russian activist and political prisoner


Afghan women

Under the previous Taliban regime, women experienced forced marriage, high maternity mortality, low literacy, forced virginity tests and couldn’t travel without a man. Following the Taliban’s return to power, women are again excluded from government and education and their rights and freedoms are threatened. The women, who are nominated for their brave fight for equality and human rights, are:

  • Shaharzad Akbar – chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC)
  • Mary Akrami – head of the Afghan Women’s Network
  • Zarifa Ghafari – mayor of Maidan Shar since 2018
  • Palwasha Hassan – activist and the director of Afghan Women Educational Centre (AWEC)
  • Freshta Karim – founder of a mobile library and an advocate for education and learning
  • Sahraa Karimi – first female president of the Afghan state film company
  • Metra Mehran – women empowerment and education advocate and co-founder of the Feminine Perspectives Movement
  • Horia Mosadiq – human and women’s rights activist
  • Sima Samar – human rights advocate, former Minister of Women’s Affairs and former chair of Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission
  • Habiba Sarabi – member of the negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
  • Anisa Shaheed – political reporter


Jeanine Áñez

Jeanine Áñez is a Bolivian politician who became the interim president of her country in November 2019, after alleged electoral fraud by incumbent Evo Morales. In November 2020, after free and fair elections there was a peaceful transfer of power. However, on 13 March 2021 she was arrested on charges of “terrorism, sedition and conspiracy”. Accused of plotting a coup d’état against Morales, she has been imprisoned ever since.

Alexei Navalny

Alexei Navalny is a Russian opposition politician, anti-corruption activist and major political opponent of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Known through his LiveJournal blog, YouTube and Twitter accounts, where he has millions of followers Navalny came to international prominence by organising demonstrations, running for office and advocating reforms against corruption in Russia, Putin and his government. In August 2020, while on a trip to Siberia, he was poisoned. He spent months recovering in Berlin, but returned to Moscow in January 2021 where he was arrested. In February he was sentenced to 2½ years in prison. Now incarcerated in a high-security penal colony, he went on a 23-day hunger strike in April to protest the lack of medical care. In June 2021, a Russian court banned Navalny’s regional offices and his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

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EU Politics

Presidents of Parliament to gather for Athens Summit

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Presidents of Parliament from the 47 Council of Europe member states, as well as many neighbouring and observer countries and other partner parliamentary assemblies, will meet on 21 and 22 October 2021 in Athens, on the occasion of a conference organised by the Hellenic Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

The Conference will be opened by the President of the Hellenic Parliament Constantine An. Tassoulas, PACE President Rik Daems, and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić.

Some 60 Presidents and Speakers, together with 300 other delegates, are expected at the biennial summit to discuss three major topical issues:

  • Democracies facing the Covid-19 public health crisis: sharing experiences
    Key-note speeches by the President of the Romanian Senate Anca Dana Dragu; the Speaker of the Russian Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko; and the President of Austria’s National Council Wolfgang Sobotka.
  • #EnvironmentRightNow’: national parliaments and the right to a healthy and sustainable environment
    Key-note speeches by the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia Kakha Kuchava; the Speaker of the Parliament of Finland Anu Vehviläinen, and a member of the Council of Europe Advisory Council on Youth, Spyros Papadatos.
  • The common future of all European citizens
    Key-note speeches by the President of the Belgian Senate Stephanie D’Hose; the President of the Cypriot House of Representatives, Anita Demetriou; and the President of the Slovenian National Assembly, Igor Zorčič.

Secretaries General of the participating parliaments and assemblies are also due to meet on the margin of the conference.

The first conference was held in 1975. It takes place every two years, hosted alternately in Strasbourg or in the capital of a Council of Europe member state. At the invitation of the Hellenic Parliament, it is held this year in Athens, when the country celebrates the bicentennial of its independence.

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