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ECOWAS gives fresh terms for free trade with EU

The Guardian | Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ECOWAS gives fresh terms for free trade with EU

From Oghogho Obayuwana, Abuja

FORTY days to the June 30, 2009 signing of the free trade agreement between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the European Union (EU), the sub-Saharan bloc has raised fresh issues that need to be resolved before the pact is sealed.

The new posers were highlighted yesterday in Abuja by ECOWAS ministers responsible for the ongoing negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU.

The ECOWAS officials, who met under the aegis of Ministerial Monitoring Committee (MMC) in Abuja yesterday, demanded a financing plan for development projects from the EU before signing the agreement.

After appraising the deliberations of the preceding experts’ meeting on the EPA held from May 12 to May 14, 2009, President of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas and chairman of the MMC and Nigeria’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, Achike Udenwa, said matters arising from the negative consequences on developing economies from the bailout plans against the global meltdown need to be addressed.

The measures, which are intended to stimulate the economies of the developed countries, Chambas and Achike argued, posed fresh problems for African nations.

The Guardian learnt that one of the five unresolved issues weighing against the signing of the agreement is the 0.5 per cent community levy, which the EU wants removed but which constitutes the financial livewire of ECOWAS. The EU also insists that the Most Favoured Nations (MFN) clause craved by ECOWAS is against the spirit of the EPA.

At the end of the meeting, the ECOWAS ministers urged the negotiators to secure unequivocal commitment from EU member- states to contribute to the funding of development programmes to ameliorate the effects of the pact on the sub-region.

The committee also proposed that contributions to the EPA Development Programme (EPADP) should be "adequate and accessible" beyond the commitment already made in the European Development Fund (EDF).

The EPA negotiations between the EU, ECOWAS and African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries will culminate in the creation of a free trade zone between the regions. At present, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have partial agreements with the EU.

The MMC, which comprises ECOWAS ministers of trade and finance, also called for the "rapid mobilisation of resources to implement priority projects" that will improve the competitiveness of the sub-regional economy as it opens to EU goods.

On liberalisation, the ministers reiterated their July 2007 position that only between 60 and 70 per cent of the regional economy should be affected over a transition period of 25 to 30 years preceded by a five to seven-year period of moratorium. They also urged the ECOWAS Commission to ensure linkages between the market access and the commitment expected from the EC on the financing of the development projects.

 source: Guardian