‘Do what we say, not what we do’

Study confirms importance of non-tariff trade measures to EU agriculture



While an study of future trade agreements with the EU’s major agro-food sector trade partners validate the EU’s continued use of non-tariff trade policy measures to protect EU agriculture, EU EPAs are requiring ACP governments to abandon the ue of such policy tools. This raises important issues of EU policy coherence.


In mid-November 2016 the European Commission released the findings of a study which sought to evaluate the ‘potential effects of future trade agreements’ with 12 important partner countries on the agriculture sector. According to the EC press release, the study ‘validates (the) current EU approach of systematically protecting sensitive sectors’.


The EC Vice President Jyrki Katainen noted these sensitivities require the EC’s trade negotiating strategy to ‘protect our vulnerable sectors through measures such as tariff rate quotas, while maximising our positive interests whenever possible’. Similarly Agricultural Commissioner Hogan stressed ‘the use of TRQs for sensitive products, as one would normally associate with trade agreements, is important to strike a balance for EU agriculture’.


While stressing the importance of the use of TRQs the EC press release noted ‘the impact of measures used by the EU to protect vulnerable sectors in trade deals, such as the systematic use of limited tariff rate quotas’ was outside the scope of the study.


Nevertheless the EC press release highlighted the results of the study which confirmed ‘the EC’s current approach of limiting the liberalisation of imports of sensitive agricultural products in all trade negotiations is the right one’.


This however needs to be seen in the context of EC’s long-standing trade policy commitment to securing the systematic removal of all non-tariff barriers to EU exports (particularly agro-good exports), where the use of non-tariff measures are seen as the principal obstacle to the continued growth in EU exports.


As early as June 2007 the EU Agriculture Commissioner was arguing the EU ‘must have an offensive strategy for promoting and exporting agri-food products’, with in many instances the main challenge being ‘long, long lists of non-tariff barriers – some of which block exports from our side altogether’. The Agriculture Commissioner pointed out these non-tariff barriers ‘will not go away by themselves’ and therefore the EU ‘must make a determined effort to dismantle them’.



JRC, ‘Cumulative economic impact of future trade agreements on EU agriculture’, Executive Summary, 2016


JRC, ‘Cumulative economic impact of future trade agreements on EU agriculture’, Full report, 2016 http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC103602/lb-na-28206-en-n_full_report_final.pdf

EC, ‘Commission presents study on impact of future trade agreements on the agricultural sector’, press release, 15 November 2016


EC, ‘Economic study on the cumulative effects of trade agreements on the EU agricultural sector – Frequently Asked Questions’, 15 November 2016


EC, ‘Going on the offensive: a new approach to EU agri-food exports’, speech Agricultural Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, address at the AGRI consultation of EU exporters,  25 June 2007 (SPEECH/07/415-25/06/2007)






Comments and Analysis

At a time of heightened global price volatility and periodic market disruptions (e.g. the Russian import ban) the EC’s spirited defence of the use of quantitative controls on sensitive agricultural products is  understandable, given the policy priority accorded the protection of the EU’s underlying agricultural base. What is less understandable, given the EU’s recognition of the sensitivity of the agro-food sector, is the EU’s approach to the use of non-tariff trade policy measures by African governments under the recently concluded Economic Partnership Agreements.


In trade agreement after trade agreement with sub-Saharan African countries the EC has demanded the inclusion of a provisions which call for the immediate abolition of the use of quantitative restrictions on imports from the EU from the date of entry into force of the various economic partnership agreements. These provisions on the ‘Prohibition of Quantitative Restrictions’ is just one of a number of provisions included in the various EPAs which seek to restrict or prevent the use of non-tariff trade policy tools by African governments.



What the EPA Provisions Call For

In general the provisions on ‘Prohibition of Quantitative Restriction’ included in African EPAs declare:


Except as otherwise specified …., all prohibitions or restrictions in trade on the importation, exportation or sale for export between the Parties, other than customs duties, taxes, fees and other charges provided for …, whether made effective through quotas, import or export licences or other measures, shall be eliminated upon the entry into force of this Agreement. No new such measures shall be introduced”.


The notable exception is the provision in the SADC-EU EPA which is less demanding, stipulating:


The Parties may apply quantitative restrictions provided such restrictions are applied in conformity with the WTO Agreement.”


Where Are The Provisions on ‘Prohibition of Quantitative Restrictions’  Found in the Various EPAs?


–          SADC-EU IEPA                                         Article 41: ‘Prohibition of quantitative restrictions’

–          ESA-EU EPA                                             Article 17: ‘Prohibition of quantitative restrictions’

–          EAC-EU EPA                                             Article 17: ‘Prohibition of quantitative restrictions’

–          West Africa-EU EPA[1]                               Article 34: ‘Prohibition of quantitative restrictions’

–           Central Africa-EU EPA[2]                           Article 22: ‘Prohibition of quantitative restrictions’



For the EC the conclusion of the various EPAs, simply provides the legal starting point for the pursuit of the systematic removal of all barriers to EU agro-food exports to African markets. In this context how these EPA provisions are interpreted and applied in practice in the coming months and years could well be critical to the overall effects of EPA implementation on African agro-food sector development. Indeed, in terms of African agro-food sector development is this likely to be a critical policy battleground in the coming years.


This is particularly important since a review of WTO Trade Policy Reviews conducted since October 2010, reveals no less than 27 African governments make use of non-tariff trade policy tools (including quantitative restrictions) to manage trade in no less than 11 sensitive agro-food sector. The use of these measures often forms as an integral part of efforts to promote more integrated agro-food sector development.


There would appear to be a major inconsistency in an EU policy which accepts as legitimate the systematic protection of  EU agriculture through the use of such measures as TRQs (particularly in trade with major agro-food exporting nations), while prohibiting the use of similar such tools by African governments in  agro-food sector trade with their major trading partner the EU.




Contentious Provisions of EPAs of Concern in the Agro-Food Sector

The interpretation and application of EPA provisions in the following areas represents a cause of concern across a number of Sub-Saharan Africa regions:


•             tariff standstill commitments: which will prevent African governments using the ‘water’ in their ‘bound’ WTO tariffs on imports from the EU;


•             commitments on the ‘Prohibition of Quantitative Restrictions’: which could seriously constrain the ability of African governments to use import prohibitions, TRQs and import licencing arrangements in support of local agro-food sector development programmes;


•             the application of provisions on ‘National Treatment on Internal Taxation and Regulation’, which could constrain the use of local procurement regulations in support of local agro-food sector development;


•             the application of infant industry protection safeguard measures which could limit the scope of application and duration of infant industry protection measures;


•             the application of both general and agriculture sector specific safeguard provisions, which could constrain the scope and duration of safeguard measures.





Key words:                EPAs, TRQs PCD, sensitive sectors

Area for Posting:       ‘EU Trade Policy’




[1]See  DRAFT JOINT TEXT (February 2014)

[2] See  November 2008 text