Ivorian banana growers push for new EU trade deal
By Loucoumane Coulibaly
23 November 2007
ABIDJAN, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s banana and pineapple farmers are urging the government to sign a new trade deal with the European Union so they can compete once tariff free access to its market ends next month, officials said.
The EU is proposing Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) to replace preferential trade deals with 80 former colonies in the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of nations which expire on Dec. 31 under World Trade Organisation rules.
They currently export to the EU without paying import duty but maintain tariffs on imports from the EU to raise tax revenue and protect local industry. The WTO declared this illegal but granted a waiver until the end of the year.
"If we don’t sign, from Jan. 1 we’re going to pay customs fees at 115 CFA francs ($0.26) per kg of exported bananas to bring them into the European Union. We can’t pay. We’ll just stop," said Mathias Aka N’Goan, director of the Ivorian Central Organisation of Grower-Exporters of Pineapples and Bananas.
He said Costa Rica, a leading supplier of bananas to the EU which does not benefit from ACP preferences, marketed the fruit more efficiently and Ivory Coast would struggle to compete.
EPAs would ensure continued tariff-free access to the EU market for ACP countries in exchange for allowing European goods to enter their markets tariff free, except for a number of exempted sensitive products that would affect key industries.
"If the government doesn’t sign the EPA, it will kill us," N’Goan said.
The European Commission, which has long insisted on sticking to the year-end EPA deadline, recently conceded that some of the six ACP regional negotiating groups might need more time to conclude the deals.
It offered to sign interim accords with country groups that are ready, or with individual countries if their regions are holding back.
The East African trading bloc drew up a pre-EPA interim deal with the EU last week, but West Africa’s ECOWAS bloc has been pushing for an extension to ACP trade privileges pending the signing of a full EPA.
Among EU countries, Ivorian bananas are sold mainly to France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. (Editing by Tim Pearce)