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Regionalism in the WTO and the Legal Status of a Development Agenda in the EU/ACP Economic Partnership Agreement

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image of Nordic Journal of International Law

The proliferation of regional trade agreements (RTAs) which share similar ideals with the World Trade Organization (WTO) has added to claims of disintegration within international trade law. Notwithstanding the ambiguity surrounding the reading of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Article XXIV on RTAs, WTO members are continuously negotiating RTAs with objectives which have so far not received universal acceptance under the WTO treaty system. In the context of European Union (EU)-Africa trade relations, the December 2007 EU-Africa summit was expected to be an appropriate venue for leaders from both sides to resolve the controversy surrounding the idea of development-friendly free trade agreements between the contracting parties. But, the summit was wrapped up without achieving any clear answer to this issue. Similarly, at the multilateral level, i.e. the WTO Doha Development Round negotiations, which the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States have sponsored, numerous development-friendly proposals on RTAs stalled since July 2006. Consequently, in view of this controversy, if development concerns can be factored into economic partnership agreements (EPAs), what would be an acceptable threshold for such RTAs to conform to GATT Article XXIV requirements of “substantially all trade” and “reasonable period of time”? This paper discusses the idea of development and WTO compatibility in the context of the EU-Africa Economic Partnership negotiations. In view of the flawed dispute settlement provisions under the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA), the paper further tries to answer the question of whether the CPA contains rights and obligations that need protection by individual EU member courts and may necessarily be enforced before the European Court of Justice. The paper ends with some thoughts on the post-EPAs adjustment programme.

Affiliations: 1: Lecturer in law, University of Manchester School of Law, Manchester, UK;, Email:


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