Guatemala - The negotiating teams start today the 5th round of talks about the Association Agreement. The focus is on better offers to access the European markets and to flexibilize the rules about the origin of industrial products for export to Europe.
Last week EU and CA negotiators exchanged a third commercial offer and a chapter of investment and services. CA bring to the table an offer of access the EU markets to up to 84% of the exportable offer and the demand to include important products like sugar, ethanol, shrimp, coffee, pineapple and bananas. The expectations of CA are to obtain similar privileges as the General System of Preferences (GSP and GSP +) to have immediate access to the European markets with 90% of the exports duty free.
Joao Aguiar Machado, chief negotiator of the EU, says that the new commercial offer of CA presents progress, however, it is below the 90% that the UE expects, for a free trade agreement. He says that the offer can be improved during this weeks meeting. The EU insists on the regional dimension of the Association Agreement mainly as regards custom union issues, non-tariff barriers to trade as well as sanitary and phytosanitary issues. The EU also insists on the ratification by the CA countries of the Rome Agreement (International Criminal Courts).
The EU ´s relation with Central America- Background (source: European Commission External Relations)
The EU and the 6 Central American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama) enjoy a comprehensive relationship that encompasses political dialogue, cooperation and a favorable trade regime.
1. The Association Agreement
An Association Agreement is the most advanced type of agreement that the EU can engage in with a country or a region in the world. It is proposed to partners with which the EU intends to deepen a strong relationship, based on mutual trust and on common values and principals. The future Agreement will give a legal framework to all aspects of EU's relations with Central America. It is organized in three chapters, namely Political Dialogue, Cooperation and Trade.
The European Commission negotiates on behalf of the EU Member States a "region-to-region" Association Agreement with Central America. Central America is represented by one of its countries acting as a spokesperson on a rotating basis.
A first round of negotiations took place in San José, Costa Rica, in October 2007, where the Parties clarified their expectations and engaged in first exchanges of views on the three pillars of the future Agreement (Political Dialogue, Cooperation and Trade).
In February 2008, the negotiators met for a second round in Brussels and engaged in text based negotiations. These were pursued during a third round in San Salvador in April 2008 when the first trade related offers were also discussed. A successful fourth round of negotiations between EU and CA, that took place in Brussels from 14 - 18 July 2008, gave further impetus to Association Agreement talks.
It is envisaged to have other rounds in 2008 as follows: October (Guatemala) and December (Brussels). Negotiations are expected to be concluded in 2009.
2. Dialogue with civil society
The European Commission attaches great importance to the dialogue with civil society and seeks to develop a confident working relationship between all interested stakeholders. It therefore organizes meetings and maintains regular contacts with civil society representatives. It actively participated in March 2007 to the Second UE-CA Civil Society Forum held in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Since then, the Commission organized regular meetings in Brussels and in Central America, to keep civil society organizations informed of the negotiations' progress. These encounters usually take place either before, during or after each round of negotiations and allow open exchanges of views.