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Gambia: Social Forum demands extension of EPAs negotiation

FOROYAA Newspaper (Serrekunda) | 13 September 2007

Gambia: Social Forum Demands Extension of EPAs Negotiation

Bubacarr K. Sowe

The Gambia Social Forum demanded the extension of the deadline of negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs) between the European Union (EU), on the one hand, and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, on the other.

Speaking at a sensitisation workshop for commercial farmers on the EPAs on Saturday, September 8, at the Paradise Suites Hotel, the Chairperson of the Social Forum, Sirra Ndow said the deadline for negotiations should be extended beyond December 2007 for an additional three years.

Ms. Ndow recommended to Africas trade ministers as well as those in the Pacific and Caribbean regions not to sign the EPAs in their present form and should ensure that EPAs are aligned with national and regional development priorities and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The Social Forum chairperson urged the civil society organizations to monitor the EPAs negotiations and conduct independent assessment of the implications of the EPAs on the African economies.

Ms. Ndow cautioned that the coming into force of the EPAs would result in significant declines in government revenue due to loss of custom duties on EU imports, which will deter social investment in the case of The Gambia by US$ 40.719 million annually.

She said that reduction in allocations in key areas such as education, health and agriculture would take place.

In 2000, the ACP countries and the EU signed the Cotonou partnership agreement, replacing the Lome Convention. Under the Lome Agreement, the ACP countries had free non-reciprocal access to the EU market for nearly all products and a wide range of agricultural products. Since 2002, negotiations are on-going for a World Trade Organisation (WTO) compatible reciprocal trade agreement referred to as the Economic Partnership Agreements, which if signed by the seventy-five ACP countries by January 2008, will open the ACP markets for EU products with tariffs.

Buba Khan of Action Aid International-The Gambia, one of the strongest advocates against the EPAs, said they would be more severe in their impact than the World Bank/International Monetary Fund structural adjustment policies, as well as the WTO agreements.

Mr. Khan said: "The EPA negotiations are being conducted between some of the world’s richest countries, which have a combined GDP of US$ 13, 300 billion, and six small groups of ACP countries. SADC $ 66.4 billion, ECOWAS $ 162.3 billion ESA$ 67.7 billion, Central Africa $ 47 billion, Pacific $ 9.4 billion and the Caribbean $72.1 billion."

He said the potential impact of the EPAs would be intrinsically unfair competition between large and highly competitive producers or exporters from the EU in relation to the much smaller and weaker counterparts in the ACP countries.

He also warned that it will lead to trade deficits in the weaker economies, contributing to balance of payments difficulties, continued external indebtedness and continuing aid dependency.

Lamin Dampha, principal economist at the Department of State for Trade, Industry and Employment, said The Gambia would certainly require budgetary support to cushion the effects of revenue loss as a result of the EPAs.

On balance of payment, the economist said the 42% increase in imports would require twenty-two fold increase in exports to achieve trade balance in post full EPAs.

Amadou Taal of The Gambia Social Forum said the development aspects of the EPAs need to be looked into.

"Not just focusing on trade but development," Mr. Taal said.

He noted that development aspect of the EPAs should adjust the production sectors, improve competitiveness of the economic operators, establish links between complimentary enterprises and shift trade specialization towards higher value added goods and services.

Kekoi Kuyateh, the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Department of State for Agriculture, said the EPAs would affect developing countries like The Gambia.

Mr. Kuyateh said the implications on food security and the economy are clear to all the players in the negotiations and the developing countries are on the weaker side.

He has foreseen that the developing countries will be turned to dumping grounds of EU goods with the agriculture and service sectors adversely affected.