UK signs accord with Central America to ensure continuity of trade deal

Key words: Association Agreement; tariffs; liberalisation.

On 18 July 2019 in Managua the United Kingdom signed an agreement with the Central American nations to guarantee that British companies and consumers would benefit from the same freedom of tariffs when it leaves the European Union as it enjoyed as a member of the EU. The trade deal signed in 2006 between Central America and the European Union was called the Association Agreement.

Commerce between the UK and the six countries of Central America (minus Belize) amounted to US$1.255 billion in 2018 with a balance in favour of the Central American countries. UK consumers will continue to benefit from low prices for goods imported from Central America, such as shrimps, coffee, fruit, vegetables and sugar, amongst others.

Central American consumers will continue to enjoy low tariffs on British products such as alcoholic drinks, medicines, machinery and cars.

The agreement also provides a framework for cooperation and development, especially in matters relating to the environment and human rights.

Despite the balance in favour of the Central American countries, the Agreement requires various market liberalisation measures to be implemented by the Central American governments and allows well-financed UK firms to compete with less well-financed Central American firms in many spheres of economic activity.

Highlights of the trade pillar of the Association Agreement between Central America and the European Union

Mariah Jen 20 June 2011

The Association Agreement between the EU and Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama) marks an important step forward in the relationship between the two regions. The Parties have finalised the legal review of the Association Agreement which includes a comprehensive trade part. Once ratified, this agreement will open up markets on both sides, help establish a stable business and investment environment, increase benefits for citizens and will foster sustainable development. The Agreement is also meant to reinforce regional economic integration in Central America and the EU hopes for it to have a positive spill-over effect on the overall political integration process and contribute to the stability of the region. In 2010, bilateral trade in goods between Central America and the European Union was worth €12 billion.

Negotiations of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Central America were finalised in May 2010. The Agreement can enter into force once the legislative procedure involving the Council and the European Parliament has been concluded.

The Association Agreement consists of three pillars: political dialogue, cooperation and trade. The key elements of its trade pillar are presented below:

1. Substantially improved market access for EU exports to Central America

Tariff elimination – manufactured goods, fisheries and agriculture
The Agreement will largely eliminate tariffs for manufactured goods and fisheries with complete liberalisation at the end of the tariff phase-out period, generally within a ten-year period and with only a small amount (4 percent) of products after 15 years. Upon entry into force of the Agreement, Central America will liberalise 69% of its existing trade with the EU. Once the trade pillar of the Agreement is in force, EU exporters will save €87 million annually in customs duties.

In agriculture, tariffs on key agricultural products will be largely eliminated whilst “sensitive areas” for local markets are being respected. Panama, for example, is a main importer of European whiskeys to the region. 70% of its whiskey imports come from the EU and those will be liberalised on day one of the entry into force of the Agreement. All other Central American countries will liberalise this market after six years. Wine, another key product for the EU, will be fully liberalised at entry into force of the Agreement. EU exporters of wine and spirits can expect savings of €6 million annually in customs duties.

Tariffs on dairy products will be entirely eliminated with the exception of milk-powder and cheese, for which the EU has obtained duty-free quotas. These quotas cover the currently traded quantities and will be increased on an annual basis.

Addressing obstacles to trade in goods
Tariff elimination is only of real benefit if technical or procedural obstacles to trade are also being tackled. The proposed Agreement will ensure more transparency and better cooperation in the areas of “standards” and market surveillance. The agreed provisions go beyond the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). The requirements for marking and permanent labelling have been simplified. The Parties agree to cooperate when drafting technical regulations, setting standards and establishing conformity assessments. Most importantly, the parties will promote the development of harmonised regulations and standards within each region with a view to facilitate the free movement of goods.

It has been agreed to move towards international standards in customs legislation and simplify their procedures. This will improve trading conditions, while at the same time maintain an effective customs control. Central America has not yet harmonised standards, but has agreed to promote the development of regional customs regulations. This will facilitate operations for traders and business both within and outside the region.

As regards sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) barriers, the Agreement also goes beyond WTO SPS requirements in key areas such as the regionalisation of animal diseases and pests, and the transparency of SPS import requirements and procedures. It includes other useful trade facilitation tools such as the listing of establishments, exports can come from. Further improvements, e.g. in the field of animal welfare have been agreed. These will help strengthen capacity building in the Central American countries and hence facilitate their market access.

Improved market access to government procurement, services and investment
The services and establishment commitments obtained from Central America are significant and meet the EU’s key interests in telecommunication, environmental, financial and maritime services. Further commitments cover cross-border services, investment and non-service sectors as well as key personnel, graduate trainees and business service sellers. The Agreement also liberalises current payments and capital movements between the Parties. These sectors will benefit from an easier access and possibilities to expand onto all markets of the Central American countries.

The opening of Central America’s public procurement market varies in terms of levels of liberalisation, with Costa Rica and Panama opening their markets more significantly than the other countries covered by the Agreement.

2. Common rules to level the playing field

Intellectual property rights & Geographical Indications
Protection of intellectual property rights is an important part of the Agreement. It includes a chapter on the effective protection of intellectual, industrial and commercial property rights and other rights covered by the WTO Agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS). As a result, EU rights holders will profit from improved procedures to defend their rights more effectively in case of infringements.

The Central American countries have adopted new or amended their legislation to incorporate regional specialities, so-called ‘Geographical Indications’ (GI) in a manner similar to the EU. Additionally, over 200 geographical indications, such as Champagne, Parma ham and Scotch whisky, are also specifically protected on the Central American markets to the benefit of producers of GI products in the EU.

The Agreement also makes specific reference to the importance of promoting access to medicines as well as protecting the biological diversity.

More competition and enhanced transparency on subsidies
Once the Agreement enters into force, it ensures a level playing field for European operators by calling upon national governments to ban all types of anticompetitive practices including restrictive agreements, cartels and abuse of dominance. This will help guarantee a fair and reliable competition environment for European companies.

In an effort to increase transparency particularly on subsidies, the EU and Central American countries will regularly report on the subsidies given to companies that trade in goods and also exchange information about matters related to subsidies in services. The Agreement goes beyond existing WTO rules in setting up a platform to discuss subsidies in the services sector.

A transparent way to settle trade disputes
The Trade pillar of the Association Agreement between the EU and Central America includes an efficient and streamlined dispute settlement system in accordance with the principles that the EU considers to be most important such as transparency (open hearings and amicus curiae briefs) and sequencing (no right to impose retaliation until such time as non-compliance is verified). A mediation mechanism for non-tariff barriers is also foreseen.

3. Regional Integration

The Agreement responds to Central America’s commitment to strengthen regional economic integration in the region and thus facilitate the movement of EU goods within Central America. Regional rather than “national” regulations and using a single administrative document for customs declarations will considerably ease the administrative burden on European exporters. Customs procedures as well as customs itself are going to be harmonized. Eliminating double duties over time, an importer will have to pay a single duty for the region rather than at each country’s borders. The transition period for this elimination is 2 years.

Regional integration will also help reduce the current regulatory divergences between Central American countries in the services sectors, including maritime transport. Dairy products and processed pig products, for example, will see a harmonisation of sanitary and phytosanitary requirements within the region in the coming years so as to facilitate the free movement of goods in the region.

4. An agreement for sustainable development

Further economic development through trade
Thanks to this Agreement Central American countries will benefit from liberalised access to the European markets in numerous sectors. This entails important economic and social benefits in Central America with gains in national income for Central America as a whole expected to amount at € 2.6 billion. The change in national income is estimated to vary from 0.5% in Nicaragua to 3.5% for Costa Rica in the long run due to the Agreement. In addition, the Agreement is expected to have an overall poverty-reducing effect across the Central American region.

According to an independent Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment commissioned by the EU, the Agreement is expected to contribute to large sectoral gains in the fruits, vegetables, and nuts (FVN) sector, especially for Panama and Costa Rica. Guatemala and Nicaragua are expected to become more competitive in the textiles and clothing sector for example, while El Salvador and Honduras will see an increase in their export of transport equipment.

By granting Central American countries immediate and fully liberalised access to European markets in industrial goods and fisheries, the Agreement will help exporters from these countries to move up the value-added chain. When fully enacted, the reduced costs of trade will have a beneficial impact on growth and jobs in all Central American countries.

Sustainable development
An overarching objective of the Association Agreement is to contribute to sustainable development in both Central America and the European Union, taking due account of the differences and specificities of each region. This objective is embedded in all the sections of the Agreement and finds a specific expression in the trade part through a chapter addressing the interrelation between trade and social and environmental policies. The chapter reflects the Parties’ commitments as regards internationally recognised core labour standards and multilateral agreements addressing environmental issues of international concern. It recognises the right and the responsibility of the Parties to adopt social and environmental regulations in the pursuit of legitimate objectives, and puts much emphasis on the effective enforcement of domestic labour and environmental laws. The Parties also undertake to encourage and promote trade and marketing schemes based on sustainability criteria, and to work towards a sustainable management of sensitive natural resources.

An important element in the overall structure of the Association Agreement is the role of civil society in the follow-up. A Joint Consultative Committee is foreseen and, specifically in the trade area, consultation of civil society stakeholders at domestic level goes hand in hand with a “Bi-regional Civil Society Dialogue Forum” to facilitate exchanges across the Atlantic regarding sustainable development aspects of the trade relations. Should divergences between the Parties arise in the implementation of this chapter’s provisions, recourse to an impartial panel of experts is possible under conditions of transparency.

Cooperation in trade areas
Both Parties have agreed to improve cooperation in areas such as competition, customs, intellectual property or technical barriers to trade. Enhanced cooperation in the production of organic products or the promotion of sustainable development have also been agreed.

Trade flows
In 2010, EU was Central America’s second trade partner after the US (and intra-regional trade), representing almost 9.4% of the trade flows.

In 2010, the main exporters from Central America to the EU were Costa Rica (53.9%), Honduras (21.6%) followed by Guatemala (12%). Exports consisted mainly of coffee, bananas, pineapples and microchips. EU’s exports to Central America went first to Costa Rica (36.3%) then Guatemala (28.1%) and El Salvador (15.2%) and were mainly medicines, petroleum oil and vehicles.

For more information
Text of the Association Agreement:
More details on the benefits of the Association Agreement:


Criticisms of the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)

EPAs lead to:

  • Significant declines in government revenue due to the elimination of import taxes on goods produced in the European Union; this is likely to result in less budget funding for social and human development.
  • Closures of local manufacturing ventures, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) due to competition from cheap subsidised imports.
  • Delivery of basic social services (the provision of health, education and other social services) to non-national private sector operators under the promotion of the privatisation of public services; in turn this is likely to lead to reduced access to these services for lower income groups.
  • Declines in inter-regional trade due to ‘trade diversion’; countries lose their markets in neighbouring countries.
  • Opening up to European competition for all government tenders; local companies which gain their income from government contracts will have to compete with EU companies.
  • Repatriation of profits gained by EU companies to Europe (rather than re-invested within the region) due to ‘investment protection’ clauses.
  • Dumping of cheap EU agricultural surpluses (e.g., dairy products, cereals, beef) which threatens the small-scale farming sector; in turn, this is likely to lead to the collapse of rural economies and rural out-migration.
  • Losses and collapse of local retail sectors in both goods and services because of entry into the local market of European operators.
  • Capital flight from the country because of investment measures that prohibit restrictions on the repatriation of profits.
  • Dispossession of indigenous land owners and lost livelihoods to give way to operations of European tourism, mining and other investors.

Adapted from: Nancy Kachingwe (February 2006) ‘Between a rock and a hard place – Africa faces no-win situation in trade deal with Europe’, Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) bulletin.

Civil society participation in the EU’s AA with Central America?

Despite the propaganda and the hype from the European negotiators of the EU – Central America Association Agreement about social and labour conditions to be promoted by the AA and about civil society participation in the negotiations, trade unions on both sides of the Atlantic expressed disappointment and anger that the EU had not taken their views seriously. In common with other civil society organisations they consider the final agreement to be one-sided and highly trade-focussed.

The Central American and Caribbean Trade Union Coordinating Body and the Central American Workers’ Confederation along with the European Trade Union Confederation had proposed a substantive Social and Trade Union Charter that they hoped would form the basis of a chapter in the AA. This was presented to negotiators in San Salvador in May 2008 and again in Brussels in June 2008. In March 2009 and February 2010, the union bodies again wrote to negotiators reminding them of the stated intentions of governments to involve civil society in monitoring and verification of the implementation of the AA. In April 2010, Ministers refused to meet trade union representatives on the grounds of lack of time.

The two Central American organisations met in August 2010 and condemned the AA on the following grounds:

  • It fails to take into account the unequal social and economic conditions of the two regional partners.
  • It was a closed and anti-democratic process that excluded civil society.
  • It ruled out any monitoring and verification mechanisms of human rights, labour rights and environmental impacts, and includes no sanctions for non-compliance.
  • A promised Social Cohesion Fund is not mentioned in the AA.
  • The aim of Central American regional integration cannot be achieved by an agreement that is exclusively focussed on commercial issues of interest to the EU.
  • Migration and migrant workers’ rights were not addressed.
  • The AA lacks any mechanisms to improve the access of Central Americans to social security or to health and other services, especially for those who work in the informal sector.

Source: Banana Link (August 2010) ‘Central American trade unions call on governments to reject the EU trade agreement’.

Central America and the EU – An Asymmetric Agreement

By Danilo Valladares

GUATEMALA CITY, Jun 4, 2012 (IPS) – The poverty-stricken countries of Central America will face major challenges when the Association Agreement to be signed in late June with the European Union, including commitments on trade, political dialogue and cooperation, comes into effect.

“The region could benefit if all of its products, especially fruit and vegetables, other crops and some manufactured goods, are given privileged access” to the European market, Jonathan Menkos, an expert with the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies (ICEFI), told IPS.

Menkos said this is the conclusion reached by impact studies carried out by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Under the European Union-Central America Association Agreement (EU-CAAA), both sides will open their markets to industrial products from the other. This will primarily benefit the EU, which will be able to sell its vehicles and machinery in this region, and invest in services like finances, communications and transport, experts said.

Central America, on the other hand, will be able to take advantage of quotas for the sale of beef, rice, sugar and textiles to the EU, a market of 500 million people, and of other concessions for the sale of coffee, bananas and rum.

In Menkos’ view, “the success of the agreement depends on generating public goods in the rural areas of our region that are today almost non-existent, such as education, health, roads, highways and other infrastructure for trade.”

Half of Central America’s 43 million people live in poverty, which is concentrated in rural areas. Because of this, Menkos suggested, the region should also aim at other markets, such as South Africa, Russia, China or India.

The EU and the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama signed the basic agreement in May 2010, after three years of negotiations. Now, following lengthy technical adjustments, the final accord will be signed this month.

Javier Sandomingo, head of the European Commission delegation to Central America and Panama, announced that the definitive agreement would be signed Jun. 28-29 in Tegucigalpa, when Honduras hands over the rotating presidency of the Central American Integration System (SICA) to Nicaragua.

After the signing ceremony, the European Parliament and the legislatures of the Central American countries must ratify the agreement for it to enter into force.

Francisco Robles Rivera of the University of Costa Rica told IPS that the EU’s aim is merely “to consolidate the legal framework for its investments in the region.

“This is important in the present context, when Spanish companies, especially in the energy sector, are being nationalised in the public interest in Bolivia and Argentina,” he said.

“The EU wants new legislation on investments to safeguard, expand and facilitate the operations of European capital in the region, especially in the fields of mining, and insurance, telecommunications, tourism and other services,” he said.

Virgilio Álvarez, of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), told IPS that “unfortunately, all bilateral and multilateral trade agreements ultimately are of greatest benefit to the wealthiest partners, and are therefore asymmetric.”

Nevertheless, Álvarez said it was “important and necessary” to sign an association agreement with the EU. “It will allow us to move forward with Central American integration, and unlike the free trade agreement with the United States (DR-CAFTA), non-trade elements are included,” he said.

The EU-CAAA includes cooperation goals for the region, such as improvement of the situation of indigenous people, justice, security, protection of the environment, fighting climate change, and transport.

It also encompasses an agenda for political dialogue, seeking to promote a series of common values between the parties, such as respect for democratic principles and basic rights.

“We could expect Europe to bring the wealth of its experience to the Central American integration process, but this will depend greatly on our capacity to absorb that experience,” said Álvarez.

Other organisations, in contrast, view the Association Agreement with the EU as a serious threat to Central America.

“Europe gave higher priority to its trading interests than to its traditional economic cooperation for the consolidation of democracy, governance and development in Central America,” says the Mesoamerican Initiative on Trade, Integration and Sustainable Development (CID), a civil society organisation.

“Central America obtained meagre access quotas for agricultural products such as sugar, textiles, beef and rice,” whereas the EU “gained full opening of Central American markets for a wide range of key agricultural and industrial goods, such as dairy products, vehicles, medicines and machinery,” it says in a communiqué.

Moreover, on intellectual property, CID questions the major concessions granted to the EU in terms of protected geographical designations, patents and copyright: in the area of services, the bloc was granted complete access in the fields of finance, transport and energy, among others.

Meanwhile, “Central America has yielded ground in terms of workers’ rights and environmental protection compared with other treaties,” since “the agreement with the EU does not provide for penalties for those who infringe these rights for the sake of commercial interests,” says CID.

The EU is one of Central America’s main trading partners, but the EU is by far the stronger partner, with a trade surplus in 2010 of 5.2 billion euros (6.4 billion dollars) and sales to Central America worth 25.9 billion euros (32 billion dollars), according to the European Commission.

Marco Antonio Barahona of the Central American Institute for Political Studies (INCEP) told IPS that Central America still has a lot of work to do on integration in order to be able to face up to these trade challenges. “We have not even been able to create a customs union in our region,” he said.

Besides, “we mainly export products that Europe can do without, such as bananas, coffee and sugar, as opposed to oil, for example, which fuels the economy,” he told IPS. (END/2012)

Little Concern for the Environment in EU-Central America Agreement

19 September 2012 | By Danilo Valladares

The Association Agreement between the EU and Central America could exacerbate sustainability problems in this Latin American region.

GUATEMALA CITY, Sep 17 (Tierramérica).- The Association Agreement between Central America and the European Union (EU) will increase environmental and social pressures on the region, warn experts and activists. But some observers stress its potentially positive impacts.

“We can expect an increase in the activities of extractive industries,” which bring about “negative environmental and social repercussions,” said Juventino Gálvez, the director of the Institute of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment at Rafael Landívar University, a Jesuit university.

This is a delicate issue in several countries of the region. In Guatemala, for example, Montana Explotadora, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Goldcorp, has been accused of contaminating rivers and affecting the water supply of 18 indigenous communities in the western department (province) of San Marcos, through its activities at the Marlin gold mine.

In May 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on the Guatemalan government to suspend the operation of the mine, but it continues to operate.

“National institutions are precarious, and there is a well-known tendency to disrespect legislation, which is vague and permissive to begin with,” Gálvez commented to Tierramérica.

The entry into force of the Association Agreement, signed on Jun. 29 by the EU, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, depends on its ratification in the European Parliament and the legislatures of the six Central American countries.

The agreement establishes mutual commitments in three areas: political dialogue, cooperation and trade.

With regard to trade, it will eliminate tariffs on agricultural products (such as coffee, fruit, vegetables and meat), textiles and manufactured goods, while opening up markets to financial, telecommunication, transportation and other services, as well as government procurement.

As for cooperation, the agreement aims to promote technical assistance and exchange in the use of clean energies, mining, tourism, fishing, transportation, sustainable development and the environment.

The most significant section of the agreement with regard to the environment is found in this chapter, under Title V, which also addresses natural disasters and climate change – two key issues for the region.

In the area of political dialogue, one of the aims is to establish common ground in areas such as the rule of law, good governance, democracy, human rights, gender equality, the rights of indigenous peoples, poverty reduction and migration, among others.

For Gálvez, when the “potential” expansion of monoculture plantations is added to the equation, the result will be greater conflict “due to competition between agroindustrial operations and rural communities for access to strategic resources.”

Oil palm plantations, which tripled in size between 2003 and 2010, have given rise to violent land disputes, especially in northern Guatemala, where hundreds of peasant farmers have been displaced and a number have been killed in clashes with the police.

Miguel Mira of the non-governmental Center for Investment and Trade Research of El Salvador believes that “the only interest behind these agreements is to open up more markets to trade and investment for big transnational corporations, while labor and environmental issues are considered irrelevant.”

In Central America, with roughly 43 million inhabitants, half of the population is poor. And poverty is deeper in rural areas.

There is an obvious asymmetry with the EU, home to 500 million inhabitants and one of the wealthiest areas on the planet, which until now has represented barely 10 percent of Central America’s foreign trade.

In 2011, the EU sold 36 billion dollars in goods to Central America, and purchased the equivalent of 31.6 billion dollars, resulting in a trade surplus of 4.4 billion dollars for the EU, according to European Commission figures.

Central American sales are concentrated in telecommunications and office equipment (53.9 percent) and agricultural products (almost 35 percent in 2010). In the meantime, the main goods imported from the EU are machinery and transport equipment (48 percent) and chemicals (12 percent).

“The logic of the Association Agreement is that of free trade, and all other aspects of international relations are subject to this,” said activist Erik Van Mele of the international non-governmental organization Oxfam Solidariteit.

Although the agreement addresses sustainable development and the environment, there is no guarantee of protection for Central America, one of the regions with the greatest wealth in biodiversity in the world.

Article 284 on trade and sustainable development “stipulates that these matters are excluded from the procedures established for the settlement of eventual conflicts,” Van Mele stressed.

Moreover, there are various interpretations of sustainable development, he said.

For example, the promotion of agrofuels as “green energy” to replace fossil fuels “could give rise to deforestation to allow for the planting of monocultures, or to hunger caused by an increase in the price of corn, a staple food in the region, due to its high demand for conversion into ethanol,” he warned.

An evaluation of the agreement requested by the European Commission in 2009 concluded that, in addition to its economic and trade benefits, it would generate greater pressure on land, coastal and maritime resources, with a specific warning on the potential increase in monocultures. It also recommended measures to minimize the impacts, to be adopted in the framework of cooperation.

Gustavo Hernández, the coordinator in Brussels of the non-governmental Latin American Association of Development Promotion Organizations, told Tierramérica that the sanctioning mechanisms for non-compliance stipulated “are not binding” and that there is “little participation by civil society, particularly the majority sectors of the population who will be the most affected” by the agreement.

As far as Luis Muñoz of the Guatemelan Center for Cleaner Production is concerned, however, the experience of the free trade agreement with the United States, in force in Guatemala since 2006, demonstrates that agreements like these can generate positive demands.

“When the environment is linked to the economy, it is more advantageous for companies to invest time and resources in environmental aspects,” he explained.

Moreover, the transfer of technology and the drive for competitiveness also need to be considered, he added. “Before, the pressure to approve environmental laws was very low, but after the free trade agreement with the United States, regulations on wastewater were adopted,” he noted.

Muñoz recognizes that all industries generate impacts, but believes that it is necessary to “seek a balance.”

“Without the profits from coffee, for example, how many people would be left without an income? And I’m not talking about the plantation owners,” he said.

Source: Tierramerica |