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ECOWAS Ministers endorse controversial EPA deal

The Statesman | Accra

ECOWAS Ministers endorse controversial EPA deal

Suleiman Mustapha, 10/10/2006

The Ministerial Monitoring Committee of the Economic Partnership Agreement, between West Africa and the European Community, have recommended to the sub-regional body to speed up the controversial partnership deal with the European Union.

At their meeting in the Nigerien capital, Niamey, Friday, October 6, 2006, to review progress on the negotiations, ECOWAS ministers endorsed the hastening of the EPA process.

The committee, composed of Ministers of Commerce of ECOWAS member states, specifically considered the development dimension of the EPA, the mid-term review of the negotiation process, enhancement of the regional integration process as well as the participation of other stakeholders in the negotiations.

While noting the importance of the development dimension of the EPA to West Africa, the ministers stressed the need for the EPA to promote the core objectives of the Cotonou Agreement of June 2000, particularly those dealing with poverty reduction.

Similarly, they called for the elimination of supply-related constraints alongside any liberalisation process in order to maximise the expected gains of the EPA.

This is in relation to anticipated positive effects of the EPA in terms of structural transformation, job creation and sustained growth.

The Ministers also underscored the need for impact studies and projection of the costs of adjustment.

In addition, they emphasised that the accompanying measures needed to address supply-related constraints are vital to securing the gains of the agreement.

In this regard, they reiterated their appeal to the European Union, to make firm and specific commitments on the financing of the costs of fiscal and economic adjustments as well as all investments associated with the removal of supply-related constraints.

These include the execution of road, energy and telecommunications infrastructure with a view to reducing the costs of factors of production, a prerequisite for the achievement of competitiveness for West African economies.

The ministers agreed that speedy disbursement of resources meant for the costs of adjustment, and the restructuring of the economies is vital to the success of the EPA.

Consequently, they recommended that a Regional Fund be created specially, for the management of EPA resources for the provision of direct funding for the specific and genuine needs of each Member State.

In addition, they tasked the ECOWAS Secretariat, its counterpart in the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa, as well as Member States, to formulate regional and national programmes for enhancing competitiveness and upgrading production sectors and enterprises. These should include an evaluation of the different costs of adjustment and investment.

On the mid-term review of the EPA negotiation process, as provided for in the Cotonou Agreement, the ministers stressed the need to have a flexible timeframe.

While considering the gap in the levels of development of West Africa and Europe, they underscored the need for a more appropriate period of adaptation in the establishment of the Free Trade Area between West Africa and the EU.

This, they said, should not exceed the expiry date of the Cotonou Agreement.

The Ministers also called for the establishment of a monitoring and surveillance mechanism and provisions in the EPA that will enable the revision of the Agreement where necessary.

Acknowledging delays in the implementation of the Road Map of the EPA, the Ministers mandated ECOWAS negotiators to proceed to the second phase of the negotiations.

They stated that it will enable the commencement of discussions on the overall structure of the agreement and the EPA reference framework, as well as allow for the completion of the outstanding tasks of Phase One.

The Ministers particularly stressed the need to deepen the integration process in West Africa, a move they considered as foundational to the EPA.

To this end, they urged member states to implement the provisions of all Community texts, notably those relating to the establishment of a Customs Union and the free movement of persons and goods.

In addition, they called for a more participatory approach to the EPA process, in order to ensure adequate coverage of the region’s interests.

Specifically, they recommended a greater involvement of the national Parliaments of member states, and other concerned stakeholders in the negotiation process, especially the private sector and civil society.

Also, they called on member states to ensure the effective participation of the Ministers of Economy and Finance in the negotiations, in line with the provisions of the Road Map.

The Ministers of Economy and Finance are expected to participate in the extraordinary session of the Ministerial Monitoring Committee in Dakar, in the last week of November 2006, to adopt a common position on the mid-term review of the EPA negotiations.

A three-day meeting of experts, from 3rd to 5th October 2006 in Niamey, preceded the Ministers meeting.

Member states represented at both meetings were Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo.

Also in attendance, were the Group of ECOWAS Ambassadors to Brussels and representatives of the private sector and civil society.

Others represented, included the ECOWAS Secretariat, the UEMOA Commission, the Central Bank for West African States, and the International Organisation of the Francophonie.

EPAs have been widely criticised by civil society organisations on the grounds that it will distort developing countries trade initiatives, and be used as a damping ground for Europe’s cheap imports.

But the delegation of the European Union in Ghana, denies this, insisting that the key target of EPAs is to improve the business environment for African entrepreneurs by promoting regional integration and tackling supply-side constraints.

In a press statement copied to The Statesman, the delegation said, globalisation and especially highly competitive production in East Asia, are already threatening various sectors in Africa and elsewhere.

The statement said the EU was working with ACP countries to respond to this challenge.

"To use EPAs as a scapegoat for economic realities of today’s global market economy is missing the target.

“Under EPAs, we would help to define or consolidate a common customs tariff to protect the emerging regional markets, so that Ghana could have an advantage regionally. For Ghanaian exports to the EU to have free access, which generally exists already today, they will have be consolidated within an EPA,” according to the statement.

The recent WTO meeting, in Geneva, gained media attention and appeared to revitalise the Doha round.

Yet while much comment, focused on whether multilateral or bilateral negotiations are best for poor countries, in reality this is a false choice: all economic superpowers undertake both kinds.

What they cannot secure at the WTO, due to the clout of countries such as Brazil, India, and China, they seek to impose through bilateral negotiations where the poorest countries are weakest.

Trade negotiations between the EU, and the African, Caribbean and Pacific group, have now entered a critical phase.

Six sub-regional groupings of the ACP have entered into Phase Two of the negotiations to agree on Economic Partnership Agreements with the EU. The outcome of the negotiations will be a series of new Free Trade Agreements, replacing the Lomé system of preferential access to the European market for the ACP from 2008.

While the Lomé regime was far from perfect, it did allow ACP countries the space to pursue pro-development policies.

Protection for local industries, and access to the European market was a successful formula for Mauritius and Botswana who saw their GDP per capita rise from less than $300 at independence to $10,000 by 2002.

The replacement of the Lomé regime, with free trade areas is a massive risk for the ACP, but the EU has nothing to lose. ACP countries, are unlikely to gain better access to the European market, but will see their local industries put under severe strain by competition from cheap European imports, often subsidised and of poor quality.

 source: The Statesman