Hon House Chairperson, hon Ministers, hon Deputy Ministers and hon members, today's debate is about the ACP-EU structure and its history. As hon members know, ACP stands for the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, while the EU stands for the European Union.
Co-operation between the ACP countries and the European Economic Community, EEC, as it was known at the time, started in 1958, when the EEC's founding countries decided to grant financial aid to the countries and regions under their colonial rule. As African countries gained independence, the EEC developed economic co-operation agreements, mainly with Francophone African countries.
When the United Kingdom joined the EEC, they brought with them their former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The ACP alliance was formed in 1975 with the signing of the Georgetown Agreement and this institutionalised the ACP as an international organisation.
The ACP states committed themselves to strengthening the existing solidarity of the group, to promote and develop greater and closer trade and economic relations among themselves, and to forge effective regional and interregional co-operation. They also committed themselves to ensure that the agreements of the Lom Convention contribute fully to the realisation of the common aspirations of the countries of the developing world. Over the years various agreements with regard to aid, trade, human rights and political co-operation were signed. Subsequently, the Cotonou Partnership Agreement was signed in 2000 and came into effect in 2003.
There are three joint ACP-EU structures, whose task is to steer, implement and supervise the implementation of the co-operation agreements between the ACP countries and the EU. There is the ACP-EU Council of Ministers, which engages in political dialogue, adopts policy guidelines and takes legally binding decisions concerning the implementation of co-operation agreements between the ACP and EU.
We have the ACP-EU Committee of Ambassadors. Among other things it monitors the implementation of co-operation agreements. Lastly, the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly has an equal number of EU and ACP parliamentarians and their objective is to promote interdependence between north and south.
There are three standing committees and they develop proposals which are voted on by the Joint Parliamentary Assembly. These are the Committee on Political Affairs; the Committee on Economic Development, Finance and Trade; and the Committee on Social and Environment Affairs. South Africa is a member of the Committee on Economic Development, Finance and Trade.
South Africa is a major role-player in the African Union and in the Southern African Development Community, SADC. We are part of the ACP, not only for our own national interest, but also out of political solidarity with the developing world and with regional partners and the combined effort at regional integration. That is the history of the ACP-EU, in short.
The Economic Partnership Agreements is one of the many issues that have emanated in the past 10 years. There have been enormous problems with the Economic Partnership Agreements. These are in negotiation and have been for the past 10 years. Despite some progress, many challenges still remain.
The Economic Partnership Agreements, EPAs, are free-trade agreements that the EU is currently negotiating with 75 of its former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific - also known as the ACP countries. The EPA negotiations envisage the creation of a free-trade area between the EU and ACP countries in which there are no duties on goods imported and exported between these countries. Free trade agreements such as the EPAs are based on the principle of reciprocity - that is, when one party to the agreement makes a concession by lowering its tariffs on goods, the other party reciprocates by lowering their tariffs too.
In the ACP-EU negotiations, the ACP countries are split into six regional groups, each of which negotiates a separate EPA with the EU. These groups are West Africa; East and Southern Africa, ESA; Southern African Development Community, SADC; Central Africa; the Caribbean Forum, Cariforum; and the Pacific countries. The member countries of each of the regions were former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
The EPAs have been very important and have significant implications for development in ACP countries in particular, as they will overhaul the entire way in which EU-ACP trade relations are structured. Unlike previous EU-ACP agreements that provided unilateral preferential access to the EU market for ACP exporters, an EPA requires that ACP countries now reciprocate by liberalising tariffs on EU exports entering their own market, as well as agreeing to additional binding rules in new areas such as investment, competition and services. This move to reciprocal liberalisation will entail fundamental changes in ACP countries. The EU is the ACP's largest trading partner. Nearly 40% of all ACP exports go to the