Outermost Regions

The Special member state territories of the European Union are various territories which for historical geographical or political reasons have a special status within or special relationship with the European Union.

The nine outermost regions form part of the European Union and are subject to certain derogations due to their distance from Europe. They are the Azores; Canary Islands; French Guiana; Guadeloupe; La Réunion; Madeira; Martinique; Mayotte and Saint Martin;

All the outermost regions are part of the European Union customs area. Some are  outside Schengen area and the European Union value added tax area (e.g.the Canary Islands)

Overseas and Territories

22 overseas countries and territories are not part of the European Union but cooperate with it in  the Overseas Countries and Territories Association. The Association is headquartered in Brussels and includes former territories associated with the United Kingdom, Netherlands and France. Most of the areas concerned are very small but some, in particular, Greenland, are very large.

The territories are Anguilla; Aruba; Bermuda; Bonaire; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; Curaçao; Falkland Islands; French Polynesia; French Southern and Antarctic Lands; Greenland; Montserrat; New Caledonia; Pitcairn Islands; Saba; Saint Barthélemy; Saint Helena; Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon; Sint Eustatius; Sint Maarten; Turks and Caicos Islands; Wallis-et-Futuna

Prior to their independence numerous French colonies had status as OCT countries. Most of the larger countries became independent in the 1950 and early 1960’s. Countries gaining independence in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were generally smaller countries.

The Overseas Countries and Territories are recognised by Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. There may join the Overseas Countries and Territories Association in order to enhance cooperation with the EU.

OSA Framework

The OCT Association Decision provides in detail for a partnership relationship between the OCT   countries and the  EU. It establishes institutions.

The association members must respect fundamental principles of liberty, democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms, rule of law, good governance and sustainable development, all of which are common to the OCT and the member states with which they are linked. There is to be no discrimination on the basis of sex, race, ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation in the areas of cooperation referred to in the Decision.

The partners recognise each other’s rights to determine their sustainable development policies and priorities, to establish their own levels of domestic, environmental and labour protection and to adopt or modify accordingly, the relevant laws and policies consistent with the commitment to internationally recognised standards and agreements. In doing so they shall strive to ensure a high level of environmental and labour protection.

The Association is the framework for policy dialogue and cooperation on issues of mutual interest. Priority is given to cooperation in areas of mutual interest including

  • economic diversification of OCTs’ economies
  • sustainable management of natural resources,
  • promotion of research, innovation and scientific cooperation activities,
  • promotion of social culture and economic exchanges.


The Association is based on a broad dialogue and consultations on issues of mutual interest between the OCT’s, the states to which they are linked,  the Commission and if appropriate the European Investment Bank. The actors in cooperation include the governmental authorities, local authorities within the state, public service providers, civil society organisations, regional and subregional organisations.

The association is to meet annually through the OCT’s EU forum comprising representatives of the Member States, Commission and the OCT authorities, members of the European Parliament, representative of the European investment bank and representatives of the outermost region as appropriate are associated with the forums. The association is to meet on a regular basis through trilateral consultations, at least four times a year.

The OCTs, the states to which they are linked and the Commission, may establish working parties acting in an advisory capacity to follow up on the implementation of the Association objectives in a forum appropriate to the issues concerned.

There is detailed provision for cooperation in the areas of

  • environmental issues climate change,
  • sustainable management and conservation of biodiversity
  • sustainable forest management
  • maritime affairs,
  • fishing,
  • water management,
  • waste management,
  • energy cooperation,
  • transport,
  • air and maritime information and communication technologies.

There is provision for cooperation in relation to research and innovation, youth training and social policy, public health, cultural exchanges and the protection of cultural heritage.

There are provisions for the fight against organised crime, human trafficking, child sex abuse, sexual exploitation.

Customs / Goods

The OCT territories are not part of the  EU customs union. They may levy customs on goods imported from the EU on a non-discriminatory basis. They are not part of the EU and the EU body of law does not apply to them.

The OCT are most EU favoured trading partners. There have favourable terms of trade on goods,  services and establishment. This includes duty-free and quota-free access to the EU’s markets. The Union shall not apply to imports of products in the OCTs any quantitative restrictions or measures having an equivalent effect. The EU provides financial support for OCTs’ development strategies.

Products originating in the OCTs may be imported into the EU free of import duty. There are detailed provisions on the definition of originating products in the annex to the agreement together with provision for administrative cooperation relating to the certification of proof of origin.

Limits/ Exceptions

This shall not preclude restrictions on imports and exports justified on grounds of public morality, policy health, protection of health on the life of humans, animals and plant, protection of national treasures possessing artistic historical or archaeological value conservation of exhaustible natural resources and the protection of industrial and commercial property. However, they shall not constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on trade generally.

The authorities of the OCTs may retain or introduce customs duties and /or quantitative restrictions on products originating in the EU. They must be no less favourable than the most favourable treatment applicable to any major trading economy as defined. The EU shall not discriminate between OCTs and OCT’s shall not discriminate between member states.

EU make undertake safeguard and surveillance measures as set out in the annex. There are provisions for the withdrawal of preferences on a temporary basis where there are sufficient grounds to question where the agreements are being correctly implemented. There is provision for consultations between the OCT, the state to which it has links and the  Commission.

Freedom of Movement and Services

Freedom of establishment is limited in respect of the overseas countries and territories. The EU shall accord to natural and legal persons of the OCT treatment no less favourable than the most favourable treatment afforded to like natural and legal persons of any third country with which the Union concludes or has concluded an economic integration agreement.

This does not apply to treatment granted under measures for the recognition of qualifications, licences or prudential measures in accordance with GATS, the general agreement on trade in services.

The OCT shall accord to natural and legal persons of the EU a treatment no less favourable than the most favourable treatment applicable to like natural and legal persons of a major trading economy with which it concludes an agreement with after 2014.

The obligations do not apply to

  • treatment granted in the framework of an internal market requiring parties to significantly approximate their legislation with a view to removing non-discriminatory obstacles to the establishment of trade and services or measures
  • providing for recognition of qualification licenses and prudential measures in accordance with the GATS
  • under any international agreement relating wholly or mainly to taxation.
  • or to measures benefiting from the coverage of most favoured nation exceptions listed in GATS.

The authorities of OCTs may with a view of promoting and supporting local employment adopt regulations to aid natural person and local activities. There shall notify the Commission which shall inform the member states.

With respect to the professions of doctors, dentist, nurse, pharmacist and veterinary surgeon the Council shall adopt the list of professional qualifications specific to the OCT which are to be recognised in member states.

Former OCTs

The Yaoundé Convention was signed in 1963 between 18 African countries which were largely newly independent French colonies, the EEC and its member states. The second Yaoundé convention was signed in 1969.

It provided for principles of free trade, financial and technical cooperation and development aid. Initially, the free trade commitments in the Yaounde Convention were reciprocal. From the Lome Convention on, they were non-reciprocal.

The Lome Convention took effect in 1976 to provide an updated framework of cooperation between the then EEC and developing the African Caribbean and Pacific countries, many of who had been former OCTs and in particular British, Dutch, Belgian or French colonies.

It provided principally for agricultural and mineral exports to be imported into the EEC free of duty. Preferential access based on a quota system was permitted for products such as sugar and beef. EEC committed to 3 billion ECU  annum aid and investment in the countries.

The convention was re-negotiated and renewed three times. The United States complained to the WTO on the basis that the Lome IV  convention violated WTO rules. The WTO settlement body ruled in its favour ending effective subsidies that have benefited ACP countries.  The  EU’s preferential regime for ACP bananas was found WTO incompatible.

By the mid-1990’s the various agreements had diminished in importance following the success of multi-lateral GATT rounds of negotiation. The Cotonou agreement replaced Lome in 2000  between the EU and 77 ACP countries for a 20 year period.

 Cotonou Agreement

The Cotonou agreement provides a political dimension, broader objectives in terms of peace, stability and a stable and democratic environment. Poverty alleviation is a  cornerstone including a focus on sustainable development.

Cotonou provided for the reintroduction of reciprocal preferences for all but the least development ACPs. It continues to act as a framework agreement and ACP was expected to negotiate free trade oriented economic partnership agreements with the EU.

Cotonou introduced a considerable element of geographical differentiation. Poverty alleviation is a cornerstone. It seeks to entrench a focus on sustainable development and includes, social, human and environmental objectives including trade objectives.

There are 77 ACP nations. EPAs maybe negotiated with specific regional groupings. EPAs have been conceived by the EU as comprehensive free trade agreements which seek to improve the country’s business environment by focusing on competition law, transparency, intellectual property et cetera. There have been disagreements between the EU and ACP countries as to the link between trade liberalisation and financial aid.

Pursuant to the Cotonou partnership agreement, the EU and ACP states began in 2002 to negotiate new reciprocal trade agreements. The member states of the  East African Community EAC agreed on a framework for an economic partnership agreement. They met in 2010 for further discussion but were unable to agree on several outstanding issues. Negotiations were finalised in October 2014.

In 2016, the EU authorised signature, adoption and provisional application of the EAC EU partnership agreement. Certain states adhere to it while the remaining East African States have not yet done so. ,

The agreement covers trade in goods and development cooperation. It also includes provisions on fisheries. It provides for further negotiations on services and trade-related rules. Kenya and Rwanda signed the agreement in 2016. However, the remaining EAC members must adopt it for it to come into force.  The agreement is not yet in force.

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