The platform of Civil Society Organisations in West Africa (POSCAO) and National member Platforms has drawn the attention of negotiators once again to the dangers and risks related to market opening of more than 70 per cent to the European Union.
The body, in a release issued by the President of the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTs), Mr. Ken Ukaoha, expressed strong opposition to any new concession for opening the West African market to the European Union and cautioned West African negotiators against any violation of the mandate given them by the region.
The call emerged from a meeting held by the coalition in preparation for the upcoming meeting of the Ministerial Monitoring Committee on the negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between West Africa and the European Union.
According to Ukaoha, "We wish to recall that while opting for a development-oriented EPA, the Conference of Heads of State of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had mandated regional institutions to negotiate, setting the maximum market opening rate to 70 per cent. Until now, the negotiators of the region have complied with this mandate, although the European Union has always called for a market opening of at least 80 per cent.
"Experts from West Africa will be meeting from 20 to 22 February 2013 in Accra, Ghana, to review the implementation of the MMC's recommendations of November 30, 2011 (Accra), to inquire about the progress of the Common External Tariff (CET) of ECOWAS, and to consider the market access offer and other outstanding issues in the negotiations.
"We further recall that an earlier study in 2011, conducted by Enda Tiers-Monde, on behalf of POSCAO, had estimated that opening to 70 per cent was economically unsustainable in the long run.
"Based on a proven methodology, the study showed that liberalisation beyond 70 per cent could impact negatively on employment, growth and household incomes in many countries of the region, including LDCs", the release added.
According to the body, another rigorous and scientifically irrefutable study conducted by the civil society in 2009, had already demonstrated that opening 60 to 70 per cent of the West African market would be legally defensible in the WTO. No argument of the European Union has managed to demolish these arguments so far.
"The civil society therefore reminds West African experts as well as policy-makers of three evidences: That the EPA is a trade agreement with a partner and, as such, cannot be a substitute for the trade policy in West Africa, let alone determine or influence the economic choices of the region that need some appropriate policy space to build its development;
"That being aware of the risks that the failure to conclude an EPA could have on regional integration, especially through the signing of Interim Agreements with countries in the region, the civil society has never rejected the EPA negotiations, but they have always and constantly remained policy makers of their willingness to accept only an agreement that promotes development;
"That in accordance with the MMC's recommendations of November 2011 in Accra, the civil society requested West African decision-makers to initiate as a matter of urgency a high level policy dialogue with the European Union to find a fair solution that would protect current and future interests of Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and the entire West African region", Ukaoha added.