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Economic partnerships

Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are trade and development agreements negotiated between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and regions.

The Cotonou Agreement

Promoting development through trade in ACP countries

Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) are tools to strengthen competitiveness, expand industrialisation, improve export performance and enhance the investment climate.

Find out more about the top 10 benefits of these partnerships for development.

Putting partnerships into practice

The EU is implementing seven Economic Partnership Agreements with 32 partners – 14 of them in Africa. The main objective of the EPAs is to leverage trade and investment for sustainable development. The agenda is expanding in substantive terms, with the agreements covering new issues such as services and investment.

Find out more about EU trade and investment with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

The EU’s trade relationship with ACP countries is governed by the Cotonou Partnership Agreement signed in 2000 between the EU, its Member States and ACP countries. As this comprehensive political, economic and development partnership is expiring in 2020, the Parties are currently negotiating a successor agreement (the so-called ‘post-Cotonou’ agreement).

The Cotonou agreement offers EU and ACP countries the opportunity to negotiate development-oriented free trade arrangements called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). The EPAs are firmly anchored in the objectives of sustainable development, human rights and development cooperation that are at the core of the Cotonou Agreement.

EPAs in Africa: Building blocks towards a continental vision

In Africa, EPAs support the implementation of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs, launched in September 2018. They are key tools of the EU’s Comprehensive Strategy with Africa. The economic pillar of this strategy identifies trade – alongside regional and continental economic integration – as major elements to promote the sustainable development of African countries.

EPAs with Sub-Saharan African countries and other EU free trade agreements with Northern African countries are building blocks that contribute to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and to the long-term perspective of a continent-to-continent free trade agreement.  EPAs already contain useful trade tools for building the AfCFTA. They constitute a solid framework for regional trade and investment between EPA partners themselves, as well as with the EU. They also reinforce the trade capacity of the EU’s partners.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are currently 14 countries implementing an EPA. Most other countries benefit from preferential unilateral schemes.

Economic Partnership Agreements in a nutshell

The 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries

Angola – Antigua and Barbuda – Belize – Cape Verde – Comoros – Bahamas – Barbados – Benin – Botswana – Burkina Faso – Burundi – Cameroon – Central African Republic – Chad – Congo (Brazzaville) – Congo (Kinshasa) – Cook Islands – Cote d'Ivoire – Cuba – Djibouti – Dominica – Dominican Republic – Eritrea – Eswatini – Ethiopia – Fiji – Gabon – Gambia – Ghana – Grenada – Republic of Guinea – Guinea-Bissau – Equatorial Guinea – Guyana – Haiti – Jamaica – Kenya – Kiribati – Lesotho – Liberia – Madagascar – Malawi – Mali – Marshall Islands – Mauritania – Mauritius – Micronesia – Mozambique – Namibia – Nauru – Niger – Nigeria – Niue – Palau – Papua New Guinea – Rwanda – St. Kitts and Nevis – St. Lucia – St. Vincent and the Grenadines – Solomon Islands – Samoa – Sao Tome and Principe – Senegal – Seychelles – Sierra Leone – Somalia – South Africa – Sudan – Suriname – Tanzania – Timor Leste – Togo – Tonga – Trinidad and Tobago – Tuvalu – Uganda – Vanuatu – Zambia – Zimbabwe

The EU is a major trading partner for ACP countries, representing more than 21% of their trade with the world. The EU is Sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest trading partner (for the first time just behind China ); the EU is the Caribbean region’s second-biggest trading partner behind the United States; and the EU is the Pacific region’s third-biggest trading partner (China and Australia are its first and second-biggest respectively).

  • The EU is the main destination for agricultural and transformed goods from ACP partners (more than €33 billion in 2019). Commodities (e.g. oil) still represent a large proportion of ACP-EU trade. The EPAs aim to diversify trade by shifting ACP countries' reliance on commodities to higher-value products and services.
  • Seven Economic Partnership Agreements are in application with 32 out of 79 ACP countries. These include 14 Caribbean countries, 14 African countries and 4 Pacific countries. Another 21 countries have concluded regional EPA negotiations that are yet to be implemented. Other ACP countries benefit from privileged access to the EU via the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), mostly using the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.
  • EPAs are tailor-made to suit specific regional circumstances.
  • EPAs are WTO-compatible agreements. They go beyond conventional free-trade agreements to focus on ACP countries’ development, taking account of their socio-economic circumstances. They include co-operation and assistance (in areas such as sanitary norms and standards) to help EPA countries benefit from the agreements.
  • EPAs are reciprocal but asymmetrical: they open up the EU’s markets to EPA countries fully and immediately. EPA partners do not pay any tariffs or duties on any of their exports to the EU.Moreover, EPA partners open their markets only partially to the EU (on average 80%) and benefit from long transition periods for doing so.
  • EPAs create joint institutions that monitor the implementation of the agreements and address trade issues in a cooperative way.
  • EPAs are drivers of change that will help kick-start reform and contribute to good economic governance. They support the EU’s EPA partners in attracting investment and boosting their economic growth.

EPAs: leveraging trade and investment for sustainable development

The overall objective of EPAs is to contribute through trade to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction in ACP countries.

The current EPAs include the following features that go well beyond access to EU markets:

  • A partnership of equals: EPAs are permanent partnerships that encourage a progressive shift from aid to trade and investment as engines of growth, jobs and poverty reduction. They entail rights and obligations for both EU and ACP countries.
  • Free access to the EU market: EPAs give free access to the EU market: zero tariffs and unlimited quantities (duty and quota-free) for all products (except for arms).
  • Flexible rules of origin: EPAs also have flexible conditions (rules of origin) under which exporters in EPA countries can more easily source from elsewhere the inputs they need to make their final products without losing their free access to the EU.
  • Better access to EPA countries’ markets for EU goods: through partial liberalisation with long transition periods and safeguard measures, to activate if surges in imports of EU products disturb local markets.
  • Strengthening competitiveness and promoting industrialisation: EPAs support ACP countries' efforts to develop new industries and diversify their economies by shifting their reliance on commodities to higher-value products and services.
  • Attracting investment: EPAs contribute to a stable and conducive investment climate by providing certainty on trade rules governing exports and imports from the EU. This helps to entice foreign investors to establish production in a given country.
  • Encouraging regional integration: EPAs aim to contribute to regional economic integration by linking smaller markets in larger EPA regions that were established by the ACP countries themselves.
  • Aid for Trade: EU trade policy and development cooperation mutually reinforce one another. Through its Aid for Trade initiative, the EU supports partner countries in preparing and implementing regional and bilateral trade. Aid for Trade strengthens ACP countries’ trade policy capacity, and enhances private sector development via access to finance, skills, services, infrastructure and other inputs that help SMEs to become competitive in global markets.

The main focus of EPAs is currently on implementing them and extending their scope.

  • Implementing EPAs: Once an EPA has been signed and ratified and applies, the focus of the process moves to implementation. This means putting the partnership into practice, to enable the private sector and consumers alike to reap the benefits of these agreements. EPAs are already delivering business benefits in the countries concerned, ranging from textiles from Madagascar, grapes from Namibia and processed fish from Papua New Guinea to medical instruments from Mauritius. Read more on each EPA’s status of implementation in the EU’s Annual FTA Implementation Report and Staff Working Paper (EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) EPA, EU-Eastern and Southern Africa EPA: Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Zimbabwe and Comoros – the so-called ‘ESA 5’, EU-Cote d’Ivoire EPA, EU-Ghana EPA, EU-Cameroon EPA, EU-Cariforum EPA, and EU-Pacific EPA).
  • Extending the scope of EPAs: Developing the EPAs according to modern trade policy (‘deepening’) and allowing more countries to reap their benefits (‘widening’) by:
    • Supporting EPA accession by interested parties. For example, Samoa joined the EU-Pacific EPA in 2018, the Solomon Islands joined in 2020, and Tonga is in the process of acceding; Comoros joined the EU-Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) EPA in 2019; Angola has requested accession to the SADC EPA.
    • Adding more issues to EPAs – for instance, services, investment, trade and sustainable development – to upgrade them to modern and comprehensive trade agreements. For example, the first round of negotiations to deepen the EPA with Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA-5) countries took place in January 2020.

Find out more about EPAs in this factsheet, as well as the top 10 benefits of EPAs for partner countries and for sustainable development.

ACP-EU trade in figures (2019)

20.2%* EU's share of ACP exports

21.9%* EU's share of ACP imports

32.4%* Increase in EU-ACP trade over ten years

* 2019 data

Meetings and documents on implementation

EPA partners meet regularly to discuss the implementation of the agreements. For more information, please consult:

Regional EPA pages