Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)
Learn about the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners.
At a glance
Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are trade and development agreements negotiated between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. They open up EU markets fully and immediately, whereas ACP partners open only partially to EU imports, over transitioning periods.
- are a process dating back to the signing of the Cotonou Agreement.
- are "tailor-made" to suit specific regional circumstances.
- are WTO-compatible agreements, but go beyond conventional free-trade agreements, focusing on ACP development, taking account of their socio-economic circumstances and including co-operation and assistance to help ACP countries benefit from the agreements.
- provide scope for wide-ranging trade co-operation on areas such as sanitary norms and other standards.
- create joint institutions that monitor the implementation of the agreements and address trade issues in a cooperative way.
- are designed to be drivers of change that will help kick-start reform and contribute to good economic governance. This will help ACP partners attract investment and boost their economic growth.
Overall, 32 ACP countries are already implementing EPAs, across 7 regions:
- Central Africa - Cameroon
- Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) - Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe. Find here the agreement with specific provisions.
- East African Community
- Southern African Development Community (SADC) – Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa
- West Africa - Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana
- Carribean - Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, St. Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago.
- Pacific – Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and the Solomon Islands.
Two regions in Africa - West Africa and the East African Community (EAC) – have yet to finalise their signature processes, while EU Member States and 15 out of 16 West African countries and 2 out of 5 EAC countries have signed these regional EPAs.
See an overview of EPA implementation in various partner countries.
Asymmetric provisions in favour of ACP countries
EPAs foresee asymmetries provisions in favour of ACP countries, such as the exclusion of sensitive products from liberalisation, long liberalisation periods, flexible rules of origin, and special safeguards and measures for agriculture, food security and infant industry protection.
- While EU markets are immediately and fully opened, the ACPs have 15 years to open to EU imports (with protection for sensitive imports) and up to 25 years in exceptional cases. Moreover, producers of 20% of the most sensitive goods will enjoy permanent protection from competition.
- EU grants zero duties and zero quotas to imports coming from ACP countries. The access to the EU market is permanent, full and free to all products from EPA
- ACP countries phase out duties gradually, over 15-25 years. Sensitive products such as foodstuff can be entirely excluded from liberalisation. If imports of some EU goods into ACP countries suddenly surge, safeguards such as import quotas apply. Some EPAs allow ACP countries to impose new duties for specific development-related reasons.
- Use the search option of My Trade Assistant to find the exact information on duties and tariffs for your specific product, taking into consideration its country of origin and destination. If in doubt, contact your customs authorities.
Rules of origin
In order to qualify for preferential treatment, your product will need to satisfy the rules of origin under the agreement. Please check the interactive “Rules of Origin Self Assessment tool (ROSA)” in My Trade Assistant to assess whether your product fulfils the rules of origin and find out how to prepare the correct documents.
Flexible rules of origin enable ACP countries to export products with inputs from other countries, especially in key sectors - agriculture, fisheries and textiles and clothing. For example, a textile product can enter the EU duty-free if at least one stage in its production – such as weaving or knitting – took place in an EPA country.
Tolerances included in the EPAs are more lenient than the usual ones. They mount to 15% in ex-work price of the final product, instead of 10% foreseen in most of the EU's agreements. For textile and clothing, specific tolerances will apply.
EPAs general provisions include the following types of cumulation:
- Bilateral cumulation with the EU
- Diagonal cumulation and Full cumulation with OCTs and ACP countries. There may be differences in the provisions applicable in the different EPAs. Please check the relevant provisions for each EPA. In most of the implemented EPAs, Cumulation with all the ACP countries (as defined in each EPA) will apply only if:
- the countries involved in the acquisition of the originating status have concluded agreements of administrative cooperation;
- the inputs and the final products have acquired originating status by application of the same rules of origin as the ones included in the EPA.
- Cumulation with neighbouring developing countries. Materials originating in a neighbouring developing country (belonging to a coherent geographical entity) other than an ACP State may be considered as materials originating in the EPA States when incorporated into a product obtained there. Please note that:
- The list of what is considered as a neighbouring country is annexed in each Protocol.
- For this type of cumulation to apply, it must be requested by the EPA countries.
- In this case, the rules of origin applicable to the inputs coming from the neighbouring countries are defined in each EPA.
For the SADC EPA that is provisionally applied since 16/9/2016, there are two other types of cumulation that replace the provisions relating to cumulation with neighbouring developing countries. They are:
- Cumulation with respect to materials which are subject to Most Favoured Nation (MFN) duty free treatment in the European Union
- Cumulation with respect to materials originating in other countries benefiting from preferential duty and quota free access to the European Union
In practice, the above allows SADC EPA countries for cumulation of origin for all materials that can be imported into the EU at zero duty (this is through either the framework of a preferential arrangement with the EU - including GSP- or on an MFN basis). Thus, a "global cumulation" for zero-duty materials irrespective of their origin is established for EPA signatory countries.
Evidence of direct transport must be brought to the customs authorities of the importing country.
Direct transport between an Eastern and Southern African State (ESA), and the EU (or through the territory of the other countries mentioned in the Articles on cumulation) is applicable. Originating products may be transported by pipeline across territory other than that of an ESA State or the EU.
Direct transport between a Pacific State and the EU (or through the territory of the other countries mentioned in the Articles on cumulation) is applicable. The same principle applies to transport of goods between Cariforum States and the EU.
For SADC EPA, the stricter conditions of the "direct transport" provision are replaced by a new system called "non-alteration". The non-alteration rule allows for trans-shipment, storage and splitting of consignments in the territory of third countries.
It means that refund may be claimed for duty paid on materials which were previously imported for further processing and then exported to a country which has signed an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU.
Fish caught in high seas and in the Exclusive Economic Zones of EPA countries can be considered as originating in an EPA country solely when it is caught by vessels which fulfil certain criteria. These criteria refer to the place of registration of a vessel, to the flag under which they "sail," and to their ownership.
Please note that, under EPA rules of origin, there is no specific requirement on the nationality of the crew, masters or officers. These requirements, which were in the original Cotonou Agreement, have now been removed to facilitate the conferring of origin to fish caught by EPA countries.
Due to provisions on cumulation, these conditions can be fulfilled by different EPA States.
Product specific rules of origin
Product Specific Rules are included in Annex II of each Protocol. Nevertheless, for some EPAs, some more relaxed rules are included in Annex 2A.
- Rules of origin EPA fruit
- Rules of origin EPA fisheries
- Rules of origin EPA essential oils
- Rules of origin EPA handicraft
- Rules of origin EPA gum
- Rules of origin EPA cocoa
- Rules of origin EPA clothing
- Rules of origin EPA electrical equipment
- Rules of origin EPA leather
- Rules of origin EPA meat
- Rules of origin EPA wood
Use the search option of My Trade Assistant to find the rules applicable to your specific product, based on its country of origin and its country of destination.
Further to these provisions, derogations to the specific rule of a product have been granted under various EPAs. For instance, the Cariforum EPA granted a derogation to the Dominican Republic (see Cariforum EPA for specific rule for garments), the ESA and Pacific EPAs respectively granted one on canned tuna (see ESA EPA for specific rule for canned tuna) and finally the SADC EPA countries have been granted derogations in several areas including on tuna and lobster. (see for Namibia a specific rule for Albacore tuna and for Mozambique as specific rule for shrimps, prawns and lobster).
Proofs of origin
- To become an approved exporter, you must be able to prove to your customs authorities the originating status of your products, as well as any other requirements they may impose.
The customs authorities can withdraw your approved exporter status in case of misuse. To find out more about the procedures, contact your customs authorities.
- To qualify for preferential duty rates, products originating in EPA countries must be accompanied by a proof of origin. Proof of origin remains valid for 10 months. This can be either
- a Movement Certificate EUR.1 - issued by the customs authorities of the exporting country. The exporter (or authorised representative) applying for a certificate must be prepared to submit documents proving the originating status of the products concerned on request and fulfill the other requirements of the rules of origin Protocol
- an invoice declaration – issued by any exporter, for consignments valued €6 000 or less, or by approved exporters, for consignments of any value
- When filling in an invoice declaration, you should be prepared to submit documents proving the originating status of your products and fulfil the other requirements of the Protocol on rules of origin.
The appropriate specimens for the movement certificate EUR.1 and invoice declaration can be found in every EPA agreement, as annexes within the protocol concerning the definition of the concept of ‘originating products’ and methods of administrative cooperation.
Technical rules and requirements
- Learn about the technical requirements, rules and procedures that goods have to meet in order to be imported in the European Union.
- Search for the specific rules and regulations applicable to your product and its country of origin in the Trade Assistant database. To view requirements for your product you will first have to identify its customs code. If you do not know the customs code, you can search for it with your product's name in the built-in search engine.
Health and safety requirements SPS
- Learn about the health, safety, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards that goods have to meet in order to be imported in the European Union.
- Search for the health, safety and SPS rules applicable to your product and its country of origin in the Trade Assistant database. To view requirements for your product you will first have to identify its customs code. If you do not know the customs code, you can search for it with your product's name with the built-in search engine.
Custom clearance documents and procedures
Procedures for proving and verification of origin
For a description of how to prove the origin of your products to claim a preferential tariff and of the rules relating to the verification of origin by customs authorities, please refer to the section on rules of origin above.
Find out about other custom clearance documents and procedures needed to import into the European Union.
Intellectual property and geographical indications
- Find specific information about the EU legislation for IP and GI, as well as EU IPR policy towards least developed and developing countries
- Find general information about Intellectual Property and Geographical Indications
Trade in services
- Find specific information on the EU market for Services
- Find general information about the rules, regulations and facilities governing trade in services
- Find specific information on the EU market of public procurement
- Find general information about public procurement legislation, rules and access to different markets
- Find specific information about investments from abroad into the EU
- Find general information to enable your investment abroad
Others (competition, TSD)
- Since 2014, the EU has stopped export subsidies on all products exported to EPA countries.
- The EU has minimised measures with production and trade- distorting
- If local industry is threatened because of import surges from Europe, EPAs allow measures to be triggered to protect industrial sectors and infant industry.
EPAs are explicitly based on the "essential and fundamental" elements set out in the Cotonou Agreement, i.e. human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law, and good governance. EPAs thus contain some of the strongest language on rights and sustainable development available in EU agreements.
- The "non-execution clause" means that “appropriate measures” (as set out under the Cotonou Agreement) can be taken if any party fails to fulfil its obligations in respect of the essential elements. This may include the suspension of trade benefits.
- The joint EPA institutions are tasked with the function of monitoring and assessing the impact of the implementation of EPAs on the sustainable development of the Parties. In keeping with the Cotonou Agreement, there is a clear role for civil society and members of parliament.
EPAs aim at contributing to regional economic integration. Regional preference clauses in EPAs set out that countries in the same region provide at least the same advantages to each other as they do to the EU.
EPAs are therefore as much about trade between the countries in an EPA as they are about trade with the EU.
- The EU provides development assistance and trade capacity-building measures to support ACP farmers in complying with sanitary, phytosanitary and other agricultural standards.
Capacity-building and technical assistance
Along with every EPA, the EU provides Aid for Trade technical assistance. This helps countries to adapt their customs procedures and reduce paperwork. For you, this means less hassle when dealing with customs.
Useful links and documents
See the booklet Putting Partnership into Practice. Economic partnership agreements (EPAs) between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries