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Europe intensifies EPA lobby in West Africa

This Day | 9 October 2012

Europe Intensifies EPA Lobby in West Africa

By Crusoe Osagie

The European Union (EU) has rebuffed claims that the proposed Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the West African region and Nigeria within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is out to undermine the region’s nascent manufacturing sector.

In a move to further woo the African nations to fully endorse the agreement, the EU stressed that on the contrary the EPA represents an opportunity for Nigeria, in terms of attracting investment to the non-oil sectors, improved access to the EU market and economic governance.

Various pan African experts on global trade have warned African nations not to sign the agreement, which they believe will stunt the development of the industrial sector of the sub-region.

The EU Ambassador, Head of Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Dr. David Macrae, who congratulated Nigeria on its recent 52nd Independence anniversary, disclosed that the EU is West Africa’s major trading partner, most notably in respect of non-oil products.

"We see the EPA as a development tool to reinforce regional integration process, to foster growth and development. The scope for improving trade relations with West Africa is therefore significant and constitutes a driver for development that both parties recognise. Trade negotiations aim in this context to be not only a key element of our relationship but also of the region’s economic agenda," he stated.

Macrae said there was need to identify those sectors which need protection, put them aside and look together to see how those sectors can be made competitive, and stressed that the idea of developing a sector was that in the long term it can become more viable not needing special protection.

"Some of the challenges have to do with understanding of what we are actually trying to do because some of the comments that I hear against what we are trying to do is simply incorrect misunderstanding of what we are in the business of doing. For example there are expressions of concern that the focus of all this is to undermine the nascent manufacturing sector and this is not the case at all," he said.

Macrae explained that the main purpose of the whole arrangement was to promote trade both ways considering the tremendous potential within the West African region for improving the way in which Africa’s economy as a whole functions.

He noted that this could only be achieved through trade liberalisation in an organised way over a period of time.

He said the EU does not want the negotiations to go on indefinitely as it has been going on for years now and it was quite unnecessary for things to take such a length of time to come to conclusion, stressing that with a little more effort the job can be done.

"For now what is holding things up is a combination of factors and some of these have to do more with the question of perception than the reality of things. With the right frame of mind it should be possible to conclude these negotiations quite rapidly and we are really close to doing so, but it is still up to the officials involved in the negotiation process to really understand what the EPA is all about as a means to improve the lives of West Africans," he said.

According to him, Nigeria is very crucial as a member state of ECOWAS in trying to work out an economic partnership agreement with all the ECOWAS countries because Nigeria is more than half of the whole West African region.

He said Nigeria should play a decisive role in this last part of the negotiations as part of its overall role in advancing the regional and development agenda.

"We are very keen for Nigeria to be supportive of the work that ECOWAS is doing on behalf of the region so we can quickly now conclude the partnership agreement which is for the good of all West Africans.

"We understand that the complexity of the issues affecting the Nigerian economy, such as poor business environment and lack of stable electricity supply, may create resistance in the Nigerian polity and public opinion as to the ability to enter a comprehensive trade agreement," he said.

He pointed out that EPA provides for a number of protections aimed at reducing its potential negative impact to the very minimum while opening huge opportunity for development and economic growth, including the creation of jobs from which Nigeria, being the biggest player in the region, stands to gain more than any other ECOWAS country.

"Our cooperation today is largely focused on governance; political, economic and social governance with focus on running things better and helping to developing Nigeria for the good of the people," he said.

 source: This Day