Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are trade and development agreements negotiated between the EU and countries and regions in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). The Economic Partnership Agreements are a system for creating a free trade area between the European Union and the Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP). This is a response to persistent criticism that the EU`s proposed non-reciprocal and discriminatory preferential trade agreements are incompatible with WTO rules. The EPAs date back to the signing of the Cotonou Agreement. EPAs with different regions are in different playing conditions. In 2016, the EPAs were to be signed with three regional economic communities in Africa (East African Community, Economic Community of West African States and Southern African Development Community), but these faced challenges.  The creation of a reciprocal trade agreement puts the EU at the forefront of how to reconcile the special status of the ACP group with the EU`s WTO commitments. The near-solution solution to this dilemma is an agreement that is reciprocal only in the way necessary to meet wto criteria. In reality, ACP countries will have some leeway and maintain limited protection of their key products. The extent to which trade should be liberalised under the new EPAs remains a highly controversial issue and it remains to be seen whether the WTO provisions governing regional trade agreements will be revised at the end of the Doha Round in favour of the EPA system.
The agreements provide a framework for cooperation, not competition between geographically distant economies. An agreement between a stronger economy and a weaker economy should stimulate the economic development of the weaker nation, while bringing real benefits to the strongest. They aim to maintain peace between nations in different parts of the world and to improve the standard of living of families in less developed countries. In order to ensure compliance with the development dimension of EPAs, it is of the utmost importance to closely monitor the negotiation and implementation of the new partnership agreements. The EU`s trade relations with ACP countries are governed by the Cotonou Partnership Agreement signed in 2000 between the EU, its member states and the ACP countries. As this political, economic and global development partnership expires in 2020, the parties are currently negotiating a successor agreement (the “post-Cotonou”). The EPAs will therefore take specific steps for this specific group. Unlike other ACP countries, the smaller group is invited to reject EPAs and continue trade relations under the “Everything but Arms” (EBA) regulation.