ECOWAS Ministerial Council Chairman Advocates Conclusion of Regional Trade Agreement

20 June 2013
press release

Abidjan- Cote d'Ivoire — Cote d'Ivoire's Senior Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Charles Koffi Diby, has called on ECOWAS Member States to adopt a posture that will facilitate the conclusion of the 10 year-old negotiations of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between ECOWAS and the European Union.

Opening the 70th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Council of Ministers on Thursday, 20 June 2013 in Abidjan, Mr. Diby said this would be consistent with the spirit of the 16th May 2013 meeting in Brussels on the negotiations held on the margins of the 19th ministerial meeting on the political dialogue between the EU and ECOWAS which he attended with the President of the ECOWAS Commission.

“On that occasion, we agreed with our European partners on the need to conclude, before the end of this year, our negotiations which began as far back as 2003 on the Economic Partnership Agreement which is one of the essential points of our cooperation”, he declared.

Mr. Diby, who chairs the Council, urged his peers at the meeting to “adopt for that purpose a regional agreement acceptable to all the parties, thus putting paid to the juxtaposition of several trade regimes”.

Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana have signed interim agreements with the EU that are expected to lapse with the conclusion of the regional EPA and are under pressure with the delay in the negotiations to make them permanent.

“Any contrary situation will impact negatively on our integration efforts”, warned the Ivorian Senior Minister, stressing the need, in the light of the stakes and deadlines, and taking account of the report of the President of the Commission on the issue, to agree on “a modicum of a compromised scheme” to resolve the impasse and take advantage of the opportunities offered in the next round of negotiations with the European partners.

The minister used the opportunity to welcome the signing, two days ago, of the preliminary agreement between the Malian government and the Tuareg groups, describing it as “a major breakthrough” in the resolution of the crisis in that country as this will pave the way for the holding of the July 28, 2013 elections throughout the Malian territory.

In his subsequent speech, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Mr. Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo, welcomed the current political and security developments in Mali and Guinea Bissau, saying they will contribute to stabilizing the situations in both countries and hold good prospect for a return to normal political life. He then commended all the actors for facilitating the achievement of this progress.

Mr. Ouédraogo however noted that the terrorist attacks perpetrated these past weeks in Niger are related to the fighting in Northern Mali, which should remind us of the need to exercise further vigilance.

“These attacks against Niger are attacks against ECOWAS, and I would like to express our solidarity once again with this member state in its struggle with terrorism, and our determination to leave no stone unturned until there is total peace in our Community space”, he emphasized.

He welcomed the region's economic performance which consolidated in the first- half of the year, as well as the significant progress achieved in deepening the major projects of the regional integration process.

He said the organization was at “a decisive or rather historic” turning point as the organization begins the finalization of its Common External Tariff (TEC/CEDEAO).

“I welcome the participatory process with the Member States and UEMOA which led, through the meeting of Ministers of Finance held in Praia in March, to the agreement on the guidelines of this essential instrument for the consolidation of our common market” he said.

He called for the “Council members' unanimous political support towards making the CET a reality and thereby taking an important step towards the regional integration process.”

The ECOWAS boss stressed the value of a single trade regime in the region in our desire to put in place the most appropriate conditions for intra-community trade growth, consolidation of the production fabric, and improvement of regional competitiveness.

«I consider the implementation of the ECOWAS CET an opportunity for the resumption of the EPA negotiations on the basis of the excellent work accomplished in reviewing our market access offer. We have in fact reviewed the liberalization scenario by taking due account of its coherence with the CET and the required development needs through trade opening», he stated.

‘'The new results achieved in this context are expected to lead to the resumption of talks with the European party with a view to concluding a development-orientated EPA for the region”, Mr. Ouédraogo said, noting that the timely conclusion of the regional EPA will enable the region avoid the potential harmful effects of the ratification of the interim EPAs signed by two of its Member States on its integration process.

The Council of Ministers, which comprises the Ministers for Finance and Integration of ECOWAS Member States, has responsibility for ensuring the smooth running and development of the Community. Their recommendations go to the Heads of State and Government.

At the 70th ordinary Session, the Council of Ministers will, in addition to the 2013 Interim Report of the President of the Commission, consider the status of tasks assigned to the Commission during the previous session, the 2012 report of the financial controller, the audit committee report, and the draft agenda of the 43rd Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government expected to take place in Abuja, Nigeria on 17 and 18 July 2013.

Several other items will be tabled before the Ministers for endorsement, including the report of Finance Ministers on the ECOWAS/CET, update on the status of EPA negotiations and report on the ECOWAS Regional Competition Authority. The reports of the Ministers of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, Ministers responsible for Infrastructure, Transport, ICT and Water Resources, and of the 10th meeting of Energy Ministers, will also be considered.

Council will also discuss matters such as the regulatory texts for the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), the report of Ministers of Security, and the Memorandum on the expansion of the Commission from nine to fifteen Commissioners.

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