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EPA: EU bows to pressure, moves deadline

This Day (Lagos) | 06.22.2009

EPA: EU Bows to Pressure, Moves Deadline

By Crusoe Osagie

The European Union (EU) may have bowed to pressure from Nigeria and other African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries by shifting the commencement of the controversial Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) from the June 30 deadline to October 2009.

The EU and its member states had indirectly placed economic sanctions on Nigerian companies exporting to countries within Europe to coerce Nigeria to back down on its resolve against the endorsement of the agreement in its current form.

The sanctions, which came after Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and a couple of other West African nations accepted an interim form of EPA, dealt an almost fatal blow on the Nigerian cocoa processing industry because it imposed a special tariff on processed agricultural products from Nigeria, making it uncompetitive against similar products being exported to the EU from nations that had endorsed the interim EPA.

Nigeria’s lead international trade negotiator and Vice Chairman of Nigeria’s Technical Committee on EPA, Mr. Ken Ukaoha, who retuned from the negotiations in Brussels weekend told THISDAY that Nigeria’s tenacity against the agreement in its current form, forced the EU to agree on a later date for the endorsement of the agreement.

“We have always made our stand on the EPA very clear. It would have very negative impact on the Nigerian economy if it is endorsed in its current form of free reciprocal trade relationship between a region as advanced as the EU and a struggling region like West Africa. So, after the last meeting in Brussels, it has become clear that the June 30 deadline is no longer feasible and we are now looking at October,” Ukaoha said.

He however told THISDAY that unless the concerns raised by Nigeria and other nations about the weaknesses of the agreement are addressed between June and October, even the new date might have to be moved.

Ukaoha, who commended the Minister of Commerce and Industry Chief Achike Udenwa for being physically present at the negotiations and for giving it the attention it deserves, said Nigeria is now coming of age in handling negotiation of international agreements.

According to Ukaoha, the days are gone when ignorant people were sent to represent Nigeria at such crucial meetings where agreements that have intrinsic impact on the future of the country are decided.

“In some of such cases in the past, people had ignorantly signed away the economic and political edge of our great nation,” he added.

The Federal Government had earlier stated the inability of West Africa to conclude the EPA by the June 30 deadline initially set for its endorsement.

Nigeria and other major EPA stakeholders including Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal had unanimously agreed that it would be an impossible task to conclude the EPA as initially scheduled.

“Nigeria along with other major regional stakeholder nations such as Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal had a meeting and looked at the entirety of the hurdles that need to be scaled to conclude the EPA and at the end it was clear that we cannot finish all the outstanding tasks before the June 30 deadline,” Ukaoha said.

Explaining some of the tasks that remained to be addressed before progress can be made with the agreement the Federal Government negotiator said specific Rules of Origin for the implementation of the EPA was yet to be defined.

He added that another intricate issue that has not been addressed was the sensitive products list of the various countries entering the agreement.

“Many countries have collated their sensitive products list and sent to ECOWAS and UMEOA commissions but the commissions are still working on these lists and would not be able to come up with a harmonised regional list of sensitive products before June 31,” Ukaoha noted.

He explained that serious discrepancies still existed with respect to market access. According to him, countries such as Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire do not mind liberalizing their market with EU to the tune of 80 percent while ECOWAS is advocating liberalisation of the market only to the tune of 60 percent over a period of 25 years with a moratorium pf five years.

Highlighting other issues that must be addressed before the agreement can be entered into Ukaoha said in the full EPA text, there were serious divergences.

He said the institutional framework of the agreement is still in doubt and no Effective Impact Evaluation of EPA implementation for the improvement of competitiveness of West African economies had been done.

The EU is asking for a non-execution clause in the EPA text but West Africa disagrees with that. West Africa also disagrees with the Most Favoured Nation clause which states that what ever trade concession West Africa gives to any trading partner would be given to EU even though this can put West African economies in danger.

The international trade expert also stressed that the leadership of EU commission and its member nations must make tangible commitments towards development within West Africa.

They have to agree on a development fund. We know of a 9.5 billion fund which the EU announced but we are not comfortable with this figure. Apart from the fact that it is grossly inadequate we do not know how the EU arrived at this figure as the total adjustment cost which the West African economies would have to face for accenting to the EPA.

 source: This Day