The West African Ministers of Finance and Trade have reached a consensus on the compromise proposals to wrap up the decade long negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement, EPA with the European Union, EU, for a free trade area for the two regions.
The impending agreement is expected to replace the previous trade regimes between the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, and the EU in compliance with the requirements of the World Trade Organisation, WTO.
At the end of a meeting of the ministers under the aegis of the Ministerial Monitoring Committee, MMC, in Dakar, the ministers adopted the compromises proposed during the preceding meetings of senior officials and chief negotiators.
The inability to reach a compromise had stalled the negotiations for EPA for about a year.
With the consensus, the ministers urged member states of ECOWAS and the EU to undertake the necessary tax and economic reforms to ensure the development of their economies to meet the required standards.
The proposals examined by the ministers emanated from the meeting of the chief negotiators of the two parties held in Brussels on February 6, 2014 where they endorsed the concessions made during the earlier meeting of January 24 2014 by their senior officials held in Dakar to resolve their divergences and conclude the negotiations.
The compromise proposals were in the areas of market access, with the region agreeing to liberalize 75 per cent of its market over a 20 year transition period based on a scheduled tariff dismantling programme.
The liberalization agreement was a major shift from its initial position of 60 per cent over 25 years.
Other compromises on the other contentious issues included the EPA Development Fund, EPADP, for which the region had asked for 16 billion Euros in new resources from the EU to enable it address its infrastructure deficits ahead of the implementation of the agreement.
In addition to the compromises, both parties agreed on the priority needs valued at 6. 5 billion Euros, centring on trade, industry, agriculture, infrastructure, energy and capacity building.
The EU, its member states and the European Investment Bank, EIB, have agreed to find a way to match the expressed needs with funding.
The impending conclusion of the negotiations would draw the curtain on an era of different trade regimes in the region following the 2007 signing of interim EPA's by Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana to maintain their preferential access to the EU market.
The Ministers of the MMC stressed the need to improve the competitiveness of the region through targeted investments in infrastructure and the adoption of joint standards to promote West Africa's development and its integration into the global economy.
The Ministers also called for necessary measures to be taken to improve the disbursement of the resources of the EPADP, while further consultations should be held with the organized private sector, civil society groups and other stakeholders prior to the next meeting of the Council of Ministers.
The final consideration and adoption of the proposals would be later by the Heads of State and Governments from the region.
Under the new EPA regime, goods and services from the EU member country would be free to access markets in the West African region and vice versa in the spirit and terms of a common market structure.