Ghana Web 24.05.2012
Civil Society Group alleges Trade Minister is rushing to sign Interim EPAS
Ghanaian workers, manufactures, faith-based groups and civil society organisations have said they are alarmed by the knowledge that the Trade and Industry Minister is allegedly pushing for the signing of the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement (IEPA).
Reverend Dr. Fred Deegbe, General Secretary of Christian Council of Ghana, speaking at a press conference in Accra, said their fears were informed by reliable sources and by the Minister’s own utterances, which runs counter to the technical advice of the EPA, the Ministry’s own policies and even her own stance on the trade pact.
The event was organised by the Economic Justice Network, a grouping of civil society organisations working for trade justice in the society.
“Recent utterances by the Minister of Trade and Industry, confirmed intelligence reports we have gathered from various sources that the Minister is pushing the Government to sign the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement, IEPA, that was initialled in 2007,” Rev Deegbe said, and called on the public to reject the Minister’s attempt.
Ghana initialed a separate IEPA with the European Union in December 2007 to end uncertainty and to protect a group of exporters who depended almost exclusively on the EU market, as their products would have attracted additional tariffs upon expiration of the non-reciprocal trade regime.
Rev Deegbe cited a recent public meeting of Ghana-EU Partnership during which the Sector Minister stated that the benefits of signing the EPAs far outweighed the negatives.
This, he said, came on the heels of an interview granted to a local newspaper, where she declared that Ghana would have no alternative than to proceed with the signature of the IEPA, in the light of lack of progress at the ECOWAS level.
Rev Deegbe said the Sector Minister’s claims were not only incorrect but contradicted her own publicly stated positions; saying at the Doha Conference of UNCTAD last month, she argued publicly that the EPAs would only benefit European companies in Africa.
“On many occasions since she took over the job of Minister in 2009, she has argued that serious changes will have to be made to the IEPA before Ghana can consider signing. As far as we are aware, none of these contentious issues in the IEPA has been resolved,” he said.
“Certainly, nothing has happened in terms of changes to the IEPA since her statement in Doha to make her adopt such a dramatic u-turn,” Reverend Deegbe said.
He said the Sector Minister’s suggestion that signing the IEPAs was the only option to protect Ghanaian exporters was not correct since only a tiny handful of exporters stood to be affected if the IEPA was not signed.
“But even here, there is a mechanism to meet the need of this few. The ECOWAS Trade Ministers meeting last year in Accra, adopted a regional mechanism (Solidarity Fund), put forward by her own Ministry based on experts advice, to compensate the few exporters in Ghana and Ivory Coast who could be affected if there is no timely progress on the EPAs,” he said.
Under the current regime, goods from Ghana, mostly raw materials, enter the EU market duty- free.
By 2014, Ghana might trade with the EU under a new trade regime called the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) should the ECOWAS regional negotiation process delay.
Goods under such a trade regime will attract duties as low as two per cent and as high as about 20 per cent depending on the product as they enter the EU market.
Rev. Deegbe said the Sector Minister’s inconsistencies and omissions only served to confirm information to the effect that, she had been pushing a reluctant Cabinet to sign the IEPAs.
He said as it currently stands, the terms of the Interim EPA would have a devastating effect on the domestic industry, especially in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, and thereby destroy the jobs and livelihoods of millions of people.
The IEPAs will destroy the domestic and regional markets for most of job-creating and dynamic manufacturing industries like furniture, plastics, pharmaceutical, wire-weaving, whose main market is not Europe, but Ghana and the ECOWAS region.
“Ironically, this cost will be paid as an attempt to meet the needs of few exporters, which is not even necessary since there are alternative means,” Rev Deegbe added.
EPAs are reciprocal trade arrangement that the EU is seeking to forge with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries in place of the preferential regime under the Cotonou Agreement, which allows the countries tariff and duty free exports to the EU.
Mr. Seth Ablosoo of Ghana Trades Union Congress, said the Trade Minister would be treading on such a dangerous path by ignoring the employment generative capacity of the local economy.
“Trade liberalisation over the past decades has resulted in the collapse of most viable industries in Ghana and the effects are the laying off of workers over the years and widespread poverty,” he said.
Mr. Ibrahim Akalbila of Ghana Trade and Livelihoods Coalition said the livelihoods of farmers were at stake should the EPA agreements be signed.
“How can over 70 per cent of the population derive their livelihoods from agriculture and you are determined to destroy that sector. The linkage between agriculture and industry is crucial for food security, poverty and rural livelihoods. EPAs will make it difficult for local producers and farmers all over the country to make any meaningful progress,” he said.**