African Ministers of Trade and experts in trade and regional integration have aligned with Nigeria's position on the trade liberalisation deal with the European Union under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), saying it will have a long-term negative impact on the continent's efforts towards industrialisation and job creation.
The ministers spoke during the Extra-ordinary Session of the Conference of African Union Ministers of Trade in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia yesterday.
The meeting was convened to discuss Africa's common position ahead of the October 1 deadline for signing of the EPA with the EU; the establishment of the Common Free Trade Area (CFTA) by 2015; extension of African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) by the American Government for 15 more years; and Africa's strategic response to World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations, among others.
While reiterating Nigeria's position on EPA, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Olusegun Aganga, said, "Nigeria's position on EPA is very clear. Africa is on the rise. It is a very big and strategic market for any trading partner. That is what the EU wants from us but Africa must jealously protect what it has.
"We should leverage our abundant natural resources and large market to develop our industries; create jobs for our people; increase intra-African trade and achieve regional integration. We must not be in a hurry to give away what we have. We must not sign an agreement without first of all carrying out a robust economic analysis of the overall impact the agreement will have on the region, our children and future generations."
Zambian Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry, Mr. Robert Sichinga, said he agreed with Nigeria's position, noting that rather than jeopardising their industrialisation and job creation drive by hastily signing the EPA, African countries should work towards enhancing regional integration and intra-African Trade through value addition of their abundant raw materials, "especially in the areas where they have competitive and comparative advantage."
He said, "Just like Nigeria has pointed out, before we sign the EPA, we should consider the impact on our children and the future of the continent in terms of industrialisation, job creation and regional integration. I want to state that as long as we have not appended our signatures to the agreement, then there is no agreement. Also, I believe that it is better not to sign an agreement at all than to sign a bad one."
The African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Mr. Fatima Haram, also agreed that signing the EPA would have a negative impact on Africa's industrialisation, job creation and regional integration of African countries.
Haram said, "Just as Nigeria's Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Olusegun Aganga, has pointed out, industrialisation is an issue that is very critical to the economic and political survival of African countries. If we sign the EPA as it is today, it is going to be difficult for us to integrate because of different Custom Areas.
"Let us be realistic and look at our statistics. The population of Africa is growing very rapidly. Statistics shows that more than 50 per cent of our population are between 18 and 30 years. If we sign the EPA, how do we create the jobs that we require for our growing population; how do we stop the illegal migration of our youths to developed countries?"
Similarly, the Minister of Trade and Private Sector Promotion, Republic of Niger, Mr. Alma Oumarou, said there was the need for African countries to realistically evaluate the impact of EPA before signing.
"We support the position of Nigeria on EPA and should also take a cue from what they have done in terms of carrying out a study on the impact assessment of the implications of signing the EPA," he said.
Aganga, however, stressed that it was also very important not to do anything that would undermine Africa's regional integration. "Whilst it is important to look into the October 1, 2014, deadline for the signing of EPA, we should also fully examine the impact of the withdrawal of market access by EU after this deadline. If it is necessary, Africa should look at ways of compensating member countries that will suffer losses as a result of this withdrawal. We must not be in a hurry to sign an EPA if it will not be in the overall best interest of the continent," he said.