The Chronicle, Ghana
CSOs ambush Hannah Tetteh over EPA loose talk
By Masahudu Ankiilu Kunateh
31 May 2012
The Hannah Tetteh-led Ministry of Trade and Industry is pushing Ghana to sign up the ever-controversial Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the 27-member European Union (EU).
Ghana says it intends to break away from the economic grouping of ECOWAS and sign the pact, if discussions with the EU delays.
The country, in 2007, initialed the Interim EPA (IEPA) to allow 80 percent of European goods into the Ghanaian market, duty-free and quota-free, while Ghana will continue to have 100 percent access to the EU market, except sugar and rice.
The Minister of Trade and Industry, Ms Hannah Tetteh, added : “The benefits of fully signing the Economic Partnership Agreement far outweigh the negatives.”
Analysts have questioned the government’s decision to initial the interim agreement, as well as the plan to fully sign the pact, by the end of this year.
Ms. Tetteh admitted the nation would lose tax revenue over a period of time if the partnership agreement is signed, but “the question is, is that all there is to this discussion ?”
However, the Third World Network-Africa and Christian Council, both civil society organisations (CSOs), said the Mills/Mahama-led government was frustrated to sign the pact which has been on the table for a decade.
In a joint press release issued in Accra yesterday, the two CSOs stated categorically that ; “The Minister’s claims are not only incorrect. They also contradict her own publicly stated position. For instance, just last month at the Doha conference of the UNCTAD, she argued publicly that the EPAs will only benefit European companies in Africa.”
On many occasions since she took over the job of Minister in 2009, she had argued that serious changes will have to be made to the IEPA as initialed, before Ghana can consider signing.
As far as we are aware, none of these contentious issues in the IEPA has been resolved. 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, the CSOs indicated.
According to the press release, the Minister has also suggested that signing the IEPAs was the only option to protect Ghanaian exporters. This is not correct. So far, only a tiny handful of exporters stand to be affected if the IEPA is not signed.
But, even here, there is a mechanism to meet the need of these 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. The Minister seems to have done very little since the decision was taken to ensure the operationalisation of the Fund.
The Minister’s inconsistencies and omissions only serve to confirm information we have to the effect that she has been pushing a reluctant cabinet to sign the IEPAs.
Furthermore, the Economic Justice Network (EJN) of Ghana added : “It will be disastrous if the Minister succeeds in this effort. As they stand now, the terms of the Interim EPA will have devastating consequences for domestic industry, especially in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, and therefore, destroy the jobs and livelihoods of millions of people.”
The IEPAs will destroy the domestic and regional markets for most of the job-creating and dynamic manufacturing industries like furniture, plastics, pharmaceutical, wire-weaving, etc, 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 a few exporters, which is not even necessary, since there are alternative means.
The CSOs, therefore, called on the Ghanaian public to reject the Minister’s attempts to send the country into colonialism again.
The deadline was not met in 2008, and the EU is now putting pressure for this to be done as soon as possible this year.
Meantime, the whole of ECOWAS and the EU are currently engaged in negotiations on a full comprehensive EPA, which the parties hope to finish by June this year.
But, many West African people believe this expectation was not realistic, thus the pressure by the EU on Ghana to sign and ratify soon is immense.
Analysts drawn from civil society to trade professionals and academics – strongly converged on the view that the interim agreement was not in Ghana’s overall interest, arguing that the terms were even worse than similar agreements between the EU and other countries like Kenya, which share Ghana’s economic development challenges.
The IEPA agreement commits Ghana to liberalise an overwhelming proportion of its imports from the EU, despite a lack of clarity on some key issues such as the basis for deciding how and which sectors of the economy will perform under this situation, and how even the stated objectives of the IEPAs can be met by Ghana.
In addition, on the issues that remain to be negotiated at the ECOWAS level, the agreement commits the government to an approach which is biased towards the European Union.
These are issues of negotiation which are still controversial, and which do not lie in the hands of Ghana alone, but with the entire West Africa region.
Thus, signature of the agreement will commit the government to an overall trade and development policy which is negative to the overall interest of Ghana, both nationally and within the West African region.
Civil society organisations and individual experts put forward alternative proposals in case the EU found the waiver route unacceptable.
For the developing country members of Africa, among them Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria, the group recommended that the EU extend to the African countries a scheme that the EU had in place for many other economies in Latin America, the so-called GSP+ ; and for the least developed country members, a scheme which the EU has already bound itself to provide, the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.
The EU refused both options, and (contrary to the accepted understanding that EPAs were to be negotiated regionally) proceeded to negotiate Interim Economic Partnership Agreements (IEPAs) with individual countries. Of the three developing country members of West Africa, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire negotiated these agreements, but Nigeria refused.