Free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement provide for duty-free trade in goods and services between nations and the removal of other trade barriers. Economic partnership agreements contain the same provisions as a free trade agreement, but go beyond free trade agreements. In addition to free trade, the EPAs provide for the free movement of people and include provisions relating to public procurement, international competition and cooperation, customs procedures and international dispute resolution. Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are trade and development agreements negotiated between the EU and countries and regions in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). The agreements provide a framework for cooperation, not competition between geographically distant economies. An agreement between a stronger economy and a weaker economy should stimulate the economic development of the weaker nation, while bringing real benefits to the strongest. They aim to maintain peace between nations in different parts of the world and to improve the standard of living of families in less developed countries. In Africa, EPAs support the implementation of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs, launched in September 2018. These are key instruments of the EU`s overall strategy with Africa. The economic pillar of this strategy sees trade – in addition to regional and continental economic integration – as an important element in promoting the sustainable development of African countries. The Cotonou agreement between the ACP countries and the EU focused on the integration of ACP countries into the global economy and compliance with WTO rules, but gradually through a series of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).
Unlike a standard free trade agreement in which several countries agree to reduce trade barriers, such as tariffs between them, EPAs take into account the different levels of development of ACP and EU countries when setting tariffs. They also provide EU aid for the development of economic infrastructure in the ACP countries, while allowing the phasing out of non-reciprocal trade preferences. The creation of a reciprocal trade agreement puts the EU at the forefront of how to reconcile the ACP Group`s special status with the EU`s WTO commitments. The near-solution solution to this dilemma is an agreement that is reciprocal only in the way necessary to meet wto criteria. In reality, ACP countries will have some leeway and maintain limited protection of their key products. The extent to which trade should be liberalised under the new EPAs remains a highly controversial issue and it remains to be seen whether the WTO provisions governing regional trade agreements will be revised at the end of the Doha Round in favour of the EPA system. The European Union`s (EU) Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with regional blocs of African countries (and some African countries) aim to promote more than simply boosting trade between the EU and African countries.