24 September 2012

West Africa: Don't Sign EPA Without ECOWAS - Chambas

The Secretary General of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states, Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas, has asked Ghana to co-operate with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to finalise negotiations on the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU).

Ghana has already indicated plans to sign the full EPA without ECOWAS if ongoing negotiations delay. Dr Chambas, however, told Joy FM that breaking ranks with the regional group would adversely affect regional integration. The country and her western neighbour, Cote d'Ivoire, initialled an interim EPA in 2009.

But eminent economists, trade experts and civil society organisations such as the Coalition for Economic Justice, whose members include the Trade Union Congress, Third World Network and the Christian Council, have strongly kicked against the government signing the EPA which, they argued, would kill local industries and aggravate unemployment in the country. Former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, stridently opposes the EPA.

So far, only 10 out of 47 sub-Saharan African countries have either signed or initialled the EPA as most trade ministers of ACP have largely rejected the agreement. "Despite all of these, and the reported public protests in 20 countries against the raw deal, it seems all but certain to be rammed through. In private whisperings, not many Africans or policymakers are happy with the deal but there is a certain sense of helplessness - Africa's nascent industrial sector and agriculture (which is the mainstay of the poor) would be damaged by the new import armada and dumping thereby exacerbating unemployment and poverty," he wrote in Nigeria's This Day newspaper in August.

Under the EPA, goods from signee countries will have 100 per cent tariff-free entry into the EU market while products from the EU will enjoy 80 per cent tariff-free entry into the ECOWAS market. The EU Parliament on September 18 extended the deadline for conclusion of discussions on the EPA from January 2014 to 2016.

"I'm very convinced that in the long run, the regional approach would be beneficial to Ghana than undermining the integration. I mean West Africa may not be the huge market it should be in terms of purchasing power but there's a tremendous potential to it. In any case, remember Europe is negotiating as a region and they see the tremendous benefits in maintaining the regional integration," Dr Chambas noted. He added that negotiating with the EU as a block would be in the best interest of Ghana and other West African countries.

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