The Economic Justice Network (EJN), a coalition of Ghanaian civil society organisations fighting for economic justice, has cautioned African countries involved in the negotiation of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) not to succumb to the pressure from European Union (EU) to sign the agreement as it has the potential of disintegrating African economies.
The EJN is convinced that the affirmation of the EPA would destabilize Africa's effort to industrialise as well as its ability to move up the value chain, thereby turning the continent into a perpetual supplier of raw materials.
Additionally, it will also impact adversely on food security and rural livelihoods since the EU has not indicated its willingness to abolish its agricultural subsidies. This, the EJN noted, could result in a major competition against African producers of milk, poultry, pork beef, cereals among others.
"At present, these subsidies and domestic supports are not being removed at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or in the EPA negotiation," it added.
EPAs are a scheme to create a Free Trade Area (FTA) between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific(ACP) group of states. They are a response to continuing criticism that the non-reciprocal and discriminating preferential trade agreements offered by the EU are incompatible with WTO rules.
The EPAs are a key element of the Cotonou Agreement, the latest agreement in the history of ACP-EU Development Cooperation and were supposed to take effect as of 2008, but as of now, the negotiations are not yet completed.
The concerns in issue were raised at a day's workshop organised by the EJN in Accra last week.
The workshop aimed at updating participants on the current debate on the EPA negotiations and their negative implications for Ghana's industrial development and the well-being of Ghanaians in general.
It also sought to explain the dynamics of the EPAs for the African continent with regard to trade and development.
Addressing participants, Mr Tetteh Hormeku, Head of Programmes at the Third world Network-Ghana (TWN-Ghana), said a decision by Ghana to sign its own EPA EU would undermine Africa's attempt to have a common agreement with the with the EU which meets the differential development levels and needs of countries in the region.
He disclosed that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the sub-regional body, was locked in disagreement with the EU over fundamental elements of the EPA. Key among these, according to him, was the percentage of European goods that the sub-region was prepared to allow in as duty free as well as the period over which such liberalisation should take place.
He explained that while EU insisted on 80% of goods being allowed in duty-free entry over a period of 15 years, ECOWAS opted for 60% over a period of 25 years.
The 60% percent, he expatiated, was meant to cope with the needs of countries as diverse as that of The Gambia and Nigeria.
According to him, Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana agreed on interim EPAs with the EU and the terms of those agreements were inconsistent with the position of West Africa. Both countries provided for 80% of tariff liberalisation for the EU goods over a period of 15 years. The deals, he said, also accepted other controversial EU demands such as export taxes.
Mr Ibrahim Akalbila of the Trades and Livelihood Coalition opined that there was the need for Ghana to negotiate as part of the regional bloc but not as an individual country.
According to him, there were a number of common agricultural policies in the West African sub-region that had not been implemented as a result of loose integration.
Participants at the event were unanimous in their call to government not sign onto the EPA.