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Mary Robinson concerned about EU approach to EPAs

Inter Press Service | 8 December 2007

TRADE-GHANA: Mary Robinson Concerned About EU Approach to EPAs

By David Cronin

ACCRA, Dec 8 (IPS) — This weekend an award will be presented to the best farmer in Ghana in recognition of the pivotal contribution that agriculture makes to the economy of this West African country.

National Farmers’ Day was inaugurated in 1984, when sorely-needed rainfall ensured a much better harvest than the drought-affected previous year.

While nobody could begrudge the country’s hard-pressed farmers their December celebrations, some Ghanaians believe a more fitting tribute would be to introduce policies that would genuinely benefit the agricultural sector.

It appears ironic, then, that the preparations for the event should coincide with the arrival of a European Union (EU) delegation in Accra, determined to clinch a deal that will lead to an economic partnership agreement (EPA) being signed with the Ghanaian government in the coming days or weeks.

A recent study by Realizing Rights, an ‘‘ethical globalisation’’ body set up by the former UN commissioner for human rights and former Irish president Mary Robinson, forecasts that an EPA could harm the country’s development prospects by narrowing its scope to create more and better-paid jobs.

‘‘I’m very concerned about the way in which the EPAs are being approached by the European Union,’’ Robinson told IPS. ‘‘We know that in Ghana the impact will be negative. And Ghana is by no means the poorest the country in Africa.’’

In particular, anti-poverty activists fear that the new trade accord will spell disaster for agriculture, which employs 60 percent of Ghana’s workforce.

‘‘Farmers should be rewarded with the right policies, rather than selecting a few that are then given awards,’’ said Mohammed Isaah from the Social Enterprise Development (SEND) Foundation of West Africa.

The SEND Foundation is a non-governmental organisation, based in Accra, which promotes development and public participation.

Under proposals put forward by the EU, most of the tariffs that Ghana levies on agricultural imports will be removed after an EPA has been signed.

According to Isaah, this would reinforce the inequalities between Europe and Africa, as Ghanaian farmers would be unable to compete with an avalanche of subsidised imports which would sell at considerably cheaper prices than domestic produce.

Although the EU has promised to reciprocate by allowing Ghana enter the Union’s markets free of duties or quotas, Isaah contends that the country ‘‘can’t derive a benefit from this’’. ‘‘The basic infrastructure that would support (agricultural) communities to produce more is not in place,’’ he told IPS.

Ghana’s tariffs on imported food have already been set at low levels as a result of moves to liberalise the economy which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have pressed for since the 1980s.

A tariff of 20 percent applies to poultry and rice, for example, with efforts by the government to raise these taxes in 2003 abandoned after it came under pressure from the European Commission and the IMF.

Wheat, rice, poultry, tomatoes, milk and sugar are the country’s major food imports. With the exceptions of wheat and sugar, these are all also produced within the country.

Trade analysts say there has been an exponential growth in certain imports over the past decade. Tomato paste imports — largely from European countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal — rose from 3,269 tonnes in 1998 to 24,740 tonnes in 2003. During the same period, Ghanaian tomato growers saw their share of sales stagnate and in many cases drop.

A similar picture has emerged with chicken. Kingsley Ofei-Nkansah from the General Agricultural Workers’ Union of Ghana says that imports of chicken have ‘‘skyrocketed’’ in recent years.

Data indicates an increase from 26,000 tonnes in 2002 to 40,000 tonnes in 2004. These imports consisted in large part of chicken parts from European countries where the agro-industry receives lavish subsidies.

Although the dearth of opportunities in agriculture has pushed high numbers of rural Ghanaians to migrate towards the cities, more than 1 million of the country’s 22 million inhabitants still make their living from free-range or semi-intensive poultry rearing.

These would obviously be at risk from a further reduction in tariffs, yet farm lobbyists point out that they would not be the only ones. As most of the country’s small farmers produce maize, often for feeding chicken, they too would be imperilled. Some 70 percent of those farmers are women.

A spokesperson for Ghana’s ministry of finance says that it may be possible to negotiate provisions in an EPA that would cushion the poultry sector. ‘‘It is not a given that when an EPA comes, poultry will be dead,’’ the spokesperson added.

But Yakubu Zacharia from the Centre for African Research and Development does not think that the Accra government will be able to secure those safeguards. Influential meat importing companies would ‘‘go crazy’’ if restrictions on trade are introduced, he said.

Nigeria has taken measures — including increased tariffs and an import ban — to shelter its poultry producers, he points out. ‘‘But Nigeria has more clout,’’ he said. ‘‘Nigeria produces oil, Ghana doesn’t. Forty-five percent of the budget of this country is funded externally and about 70 percent of that comes from the EU.’’

Some economists regard Ghana as an African success story. After a series of military coups from the mid 1960s onwards, the country has experienced a significant degree of political stability since 1984.

Whereas several other countries in West Africa have been beset by civil strife, it has recorded a robust level of economic expansion — at an average rate of 4 percent in the past few years.

 source: IPS