analysisBy Quentin de Roquefeuil
The West Africa EPA negotiating group, comprised of states from the Economic Community of West African States and Mauritania, became the first African region to officially conclude and endorse a regional Economic Partnership Agreement.
This comes after ECOWAS Heads of States and Government officially endorsed the negotiated agreement on July 10th at the 45th Ordinary Session Of The Authority Of ECOWAS Heads Of State And Government.
A technical compromise on several contentious points in the agreement had been found back in January, but Nigeria had refused to endorse the deal at a previous Heads of States and Government citing several “concerns” with the deal as it stood.
Since then officials from Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Senegal have met several times to review Nigeria’s concerns. It is unclear whether the agreement’s draft, finalized it January, has been amended to reflect these concerns.
The conclusion of the agreement follows nearly a decade of sometimes tense negotiation between the EU and ECOWAS – and between ECOWAS members themselves. At stake was the unity of the African grouping, torn between members like Ghana and Ivory Coast and Nigeria. The former two had made securing their tariff reductions inherited from the previous Lomé conventions a priority, while Nigeria was wary of singing unto an agreement it saw as constraining its policy space and endangering its industrial base.
The approval is a good sign for regional integration in West Africa in so far as fragmentation has been averted. The Nigerian government seems to have made the decision that sticking to its regional neighbours, which had by now all agreed on the compromise text, was more important than rejecting an agreement it had deep reservations about.
EPA negotiations will nevertheless leave a mark on EU West Africa relations. The agreement is, to this day, deeply unpopular in most countries in the region. Even though the agreement is flexible – with 25% of trade not covered, and extensive safeguard available – the European Commission’s track record of handling these negotiations is not spotless. It is hoped that Europe can find better, more constructive ways of engaging with its African partners on trade in the future.