Africast Global Africa Network, 13 April 2006
ECOWAS trade ministers agree on conditions for EPA
ABUJA, April 13 — ECOWAS Trade Ministers have rounded off a one-day appraisal meeting on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union with an agreement on pre-conditions to be fulfilled before the beginning of the second phase of the negotiations.
The negotiations will lead to the creation of a free trade area of the two regions, a statement from the ECOWAS Secretariat in Abuja said Wednesday.
According to the indicative programme, the second phase of the negotiations should have begun in September 2005 and ended in September 2006.
However, at the end of the meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, the ministerial monitoring committee insisted on the conclusion of all the outstanding issues in the first phase before moving on to the next phase.
Among the outstanding issues to be completed before the second phase are the preparation of the reference framework for the negotiations, the conduct of national and regional impact studies and the preparation of restructuring and upgrading programmes.
The outstanding issues also include the preparation of community framework on competition and investment and the finalisation of the report of the thematic group with responsibility for the production sector. This sector covers agriculture, fisheries, processed goods and handicrafts.
The ministers agreed on a timeline between June and September 2006 to conclude these activities for consideration during their September 2006 meeting in Niamey, Niger.
The EPA, which would define the trade relations between West Africa and the European Union (EU) during a 20-year period, would succeed the transitional Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA).
The CPA was signed in Cotonou in June 2000 between the 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the EU as an interim arrangement during a two-year period prior to the negotiation of the EPA.
Phase one of the regional phase of the negotiation was concluded in September 2005 and the meeting enabled the ministers to assess the various aspects of the negotiations.
Phase 1 of the negotiations examined the economic and commercial integration priorities of West Africa and enabled the region to determine the critical issues for discussion with the European Union.
The second phase will define the overall architecture of the EPA, analyse the different liberalisation options for trade in goods and services in order to ensure that the negotiations improve market access for West African goods in the European market.
It will also address the capacity and supply constraints of the region to increase its competitiveness.
The meeting of the ministers considered the recommendations of the preceding three-day meeting of experts as well as those of Chief Negotiators held in October 2005.
It also considered the reports of the Joint Technical Thematic Groups on the first phase of the negotiations and the draft agreement structure.