Nairobi — Negotiations on a new trade pact between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries on market access may extend beyond the January 2008 deadline.
The proposed trade pact promises to maintain the existing preferential market access to the ACP countries though they would be required to open their economies to imports from the EU.
The EU Trade Commissioner Mr Peter Mandelson hinted that the deadline could be extended but only with approval from other members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
"Our deadline to negotiate Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) is January 2008 when the Cotonou waiver expires, Mandelson said in a statement released by the EU offices in Nairobi.
"We can be flexible - after all development is our goal, not deadlines."
He however warns the 79 ACP countries that they risked losing more as they seek a waiver from the WTO members. Kenya is among 16 African countries negotiating for EPAs under the East and Southern African block.
During the first waiver granted by WTO in the late nineties, the EU was forced to initiate the 'Everything but Arms' clause that offered duty and quota free access to all poor countries.
The clause reduced export volumes from ACP countries and especially from Africa as competition from other countries intensified.
We should not flaunt the deadline, but equally we have no magic alternatives to offer, and it is politically unrealistic to think that WTO members would agree to extend the current waiver, and certainly not without a hefty price," warns Mandelson.
He said the EU was keen to fulfil all promises contained in the Cotonou agreement as well as abide by WTO rules. Other WTO members have challenged the Cotonou agreement that has governed trade between the ACP countries and the EU for over 30 years.
The agreement has been found to discriminate against other countries exporting goods and services to the EU.