Today, I am returning from Pretoria in South Africa, where I have been celebrating that it is one year since the entry into force of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EU and countries in the Southern African Development Community. On Monday, I got the chance to speak with over 150 civil society organisations at a civil society forum about the experiences of the trade deal so far.

With Magapa Phawene, CEO of Wensleydale Organic Farm, in South Africa this week. Photo: European Union With Magapa Phawene, CEO of Wensleydale Organic Farm, in South Africa this week. Photo: European Union And yesterday, I visited an organic farm managed by a female entrepreneur, who intends to make use of the partnership agreement to export certified organic agricultural products to Europe. More information about my South Africa visit, including my speech to students at Witwatersrand University yesterday, can be found here.

Our partnership agreements will stay high on the agenda throughout this week – on Friday, 20 October, I will co-host a high-level roundtable in Brussels, together with my fellow EU Commissioner, Neven Mimica, the trade ministers of Jamaica and Madagascar, and vice-president Van Ballekom of the European Investment Bank. At the event, entitled 'Partnership in practice: making EU trade work for ACP countries', we will look at the current trade relationship between the EU and the 79 countries that make up the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

We will consider EU policy tools such as those Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and ACP regions, as well as the External Investment Plan (EIP) for Africa, and trade-related development programmes. We will see how they are working at the moment to help ACP countries attract more investment, industrialise, integrate into global value chains, and create jobs in the process. And we will discuss what lessons we can learn about what more the EU and ACP countries can do to facilitate trade and investment.

The event on Friday will bring together businesspeople and representatives of civil society from ACP countries and the EU. It will include a discussion with a panel whose members are well placed to speak on these issues: for instance, the deputy executive director of Caribbean Export, the region's export promotion agency; the director of a textiles manufacturing firm in Madagascar; the international relations adviser of lobby group BusinessEurope; and a representative of the successful fisheries industry of Papua New Guinea.

I am determined that Economic Partnership Agreements should work for ACP and European businesses and communities – and especially for young people and women, who are often excluded from job and business opportunities. I want the agreements to help the participating ACP countries to diversify their economies and industrialise, so they move up global value chains and generate more growth and jobs in the process. I want them to encourage ACP countries to enact the reforms that will help them attract more long-term investment from overseas. And I want us to overcome the challenges we face as we put the EPAs into practice.

There have been encouraging signs already, for which EPAs can take at least some credit. One example is Madagascar's textile and clothing industry. It has benefitted from the conclusion of the EPA with duty-free, quota-free access to the EU and improved rules of origin. After its EPA started to apply in 2012, Madagascar saw a rise in exports to the EU of almost 15% per year. In 2015, textiles and clothing were its main exports, worth more than 300 million euros. They accounted for almost one third of Madagascar's total exports to the EU. And in South Africa, exports to the EU in sectors like fisheries and flowers have increased since the entry into force of its EPA.

These agreements also come with considerable aid for trade, to assist ACP governments and businesses in putting the agreements to work and make the most of them. For example, in Lesotho, the EU has funded a one-stop export application facility. It used to take seven days to complete export formalities and exporters used to have to fill in a 23 page document. Now it takes just 15 minutes.

Of course, the EPAs are not the solution to all challenges faced. But I believe they can play an important role in enabling the participating ACP countries to integrate more fully into the global economy and fulfil the aspirations of their people. That's a goal we must all strive for.

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