The Post, Buea
EU, Cemac Disagree Over Trade Accord
By Joe Dinga Pefok
23 November 2007
A split has erupted among big economic operators in Cameroon as to whether or not government should respect the dateline of December 31, 2007, to sign the free trade Economic Partnership Accord between the European Union, EU, and some African, Caribbean and Pacific, ACP, countries.
It would be recalled that on June 23, 2000, the EU and some ACP countries signed the Cotonou Accord to prepare the way for the eventual signing of the Economic Partnership Accord, latest December 31, 2007.
In principle, this means that from January 1, 2008, products from the EU would enter ACP countries duty free and vice versa. The idea for the Economic Partnership Accord was said to be the proposal of the World Trade Organisation, WTO.
In a bid to facilitate negotiation, it was decided that the EU negotiates with the ACP countries that signed the Cotonou Accord at the level of their different sub-regions. Thus, Cameroon has been negotiating through the Central Africa sub-region, CEMAC.
But with the deadline drawing nearer, there are reports that a serious disagreement has erupted between the EU and CEMAC, as some member countries of the sub-region are insisting on the continuous protection of quite a number of their products. This is contrary to the EU position that only rice and sugar should for now continue to enjoy protection in these countries through the payment of customs duty.
Industrialists Against Accord
For quite sometime now, industrialists, especially through their syndicate, SYNDUSTRICAM, headed by Charles Metouck, have been expressing the fear that scrapping off the tariff barrier for products entering Cameroon from the EU would likely lead to the "death" of many local industries, in the face of cheap products coming from an industrialised Europe.
Thus, they have been pressing government to strike an agreement with the EU, not only to push ahead the dateline for the signing of the accord, but to also push for an exclusion of some products from the list of products to eventually come in duty free from the EU.
ASSOBACAM Speaks Out
The Association of Banana Producers/Exporters in Cameroon, commonly known by its French acronym, ASSOBACAM, has finally come public with its own position on the issue. It is urging the government to respect the Accord deadline.
This position was made public Sunday, November 18 at a roundtable conference organised by a consultancy and moderated by Alex Gustave Azebaze at Akwa Palace Hotel in Douala, on the theme: "The other side of the risks about the EU-ACP Accord."
The Post gathered from the conference that besides urging the government to go ahead and sign the Economic Partnership Accord, the Europe Delegate of ASSOBACAM in Paris, Anatole Ebanda Alima, and his counterpart of Ivory Coast, Philippe Marvel, also based in Paris, had last October 19, addressed a joint letter to Mrs. Mariana Fischer Boel, the head of the Agriculture Commission at the EU, in Brussels.
In the two-page letter, the associations hailed the idea of the economic partnership and some ACP countries which include Cameroon and Ivory Coast. They noted that since the signing of the Cotonou Accord, the EU had as a prelude to the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement, already gone ahead as was agreed to considerably reduce taxes on bananas entering the EU from ACP countries.
Since no such reduction was made on bananas coming into the EU from other countries like those of Latin and South America that were not part of the Cotonou Accord, such a situation has all this while greatly worked to the market advantage of bananas from Cameroon and Ivory Coast.
But the associations regretted that with some reports suggesting that it might not be possible for CEMAC and ECOWAS to sign the Economic Partnership Accord, the nightmare looming is that the EU might reinstitute very high taxes on bananas and other products from these countries.
Noting that the bulk of bananas produced in Cameroon and Ivory Coast for export have Europe as the main market, the two associations cried out that the imposition of high taxes on their bananas would greatly affect their members or even lead to their collapse. They, thus, pleaded to the EU that in the case where their two sub-regions do not get to sign the accord with EU, it should sympathetically extend the current preferential treatment on taxes for another one year as talks go on.
Three EU officials, including Mrs. Boel, on November 15, signed a response to the joint letter from ASSOBACAM and its Ivorian counterpart.They recalled that the Cotonou Accord between EU and ACP was a strong recommendation made by WTO with the aim of promoting economic development as well as reducing poverty in less developed economies.
The EU officials stated that they were very much aware of the big negative effects that products from these countries would face in the EU market, if high taxes are to be imposed on them. They, however, said the only way to avoid such a situation would be for the sub-regions concern to strive to respect the dateline for the signing of the Economic Partnership Accord.
The officials minced no words that the failure by any sub-region concerned to sign the Economic Partnership Accord as was agreed in the June 23, 2000 Cotonou Accord, would be considered as a failure to respect an international agreement, with all the consequences that go with it.
They stated that there will be no extension of the current preferential tax system on the EU market for products coming from ACP countries that will fail to respect the said deadline.