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Nigeria: FG urged to spearhead Ecowas negotiations

Trade - FG Urged to Spearhead Ecowas Negotiations

This Day (Lagos)

April 17, 2007

By Abimbola Akosile

The Federal Government has been called upon to take the lead in driving the Economic Community of West African States- Economic Partnership Agreement (ECOWAS-EPA) negotiations in order to guide the developing region towards effective regional integration and improved trade practices.

Also the government of Nigeria was enjoined to cause a review of the Common External Tariff (CET) to ensure the adoption of common tariff structure that protects local industries and agricultural producers, allegedly because neither 20% nor 50% can give the kind of protection required for the achievement of Nigeria’s industrialisation policy embedded in the development strategy.

Above calls formed part of observations and recommendations by the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS), the Nigerian Non State Actors Focal Point on EPAs, on April 11, at a briefing in Abuja.

The call, according to NANTS and other stakeholders gathered at the planning meeting centered on the need to avert a situation where smaller West African countries whose budgets are dependent on Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to be hood-winked into signing agreements that may likely affect the Nigerian economy, and conversely benefit the European Union (EU).

Convener of the meeting, Barrister Ken Ukaoha, NANTS President who took the participants through the history and update of the EPAs negotiation process, highlighted the need for caution on the Singapore issues of competition and investment.

Apart from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria is the other non-LDCs in West Africa. Nigeria is therefore among the three non-LDCs negotiating the EPA under the West African region represented by ECOWAS. The negotiations in accordance with the provisions of the Cotonou Agreement ought to be finalised by the end of 2007 with implementation starting by 1st January 2008.

Ukaoha, who revealed that Nigeria has sought for an extension of the negotiations by additional three years, saluted the courage of the Federal Government (represented by Dr. Aliyu Modibbo, the Minister of Commerce and Industry and the Permanent Secretary, Dr. R. Ogunbambi) in declaring that Nigeria would neither sign an EPA agreement that is not development-friendly nor an EPA put together under any kind of pressure without taking the economy into account.

"Nigeria has participated at the highest level in the negotiations, which indicates that the country now understands the serious debilitating implications of the EPA on the Nigerian economy. We wish to point out that the request by EU to conclude the EPA by 2007 carries a heavy weight and magnitude of negative impacts on stakeholders in the Nigerian economy, and on the future of ACP States".

"Nigeria, given its oil and self-dependence, stands to be the only present hope for ECOWAS, whereas most of the ACP countries’ budget is dependent to a certain extent on the Development Assistance from institutions like the EU. In the areas of economic management, the present administration in Nigeria has sought setting reforms geared towards industrialisation, diversification of the economy and self sufficiency".

He highlighted a fear that an EPA hurriedly signed has the capacity of throwing Nigeria backwards, calling on the government to maintain her reputable course in the EPA negotiations. "We must analyse the costs and benefits of EPA so as to avoid mortgaging the future, the lives and the livelihoods of our people just in a bid to sign an agreement", Ukaoha said.

Commending the formulation of NEEDS 2 (the review of the Nigerian Economic Empowerment Development Strategy); the participants called on the government to ensure coherence between NEEDS and any future agreement, so that the gains of the recent huge debt payment would be translated into desired development.

The Federal government was called upon to set up a core high-powered committee to constantly look into EPA negotiations details, with a view to recommending and carrying out all necessary analysis that would continue to give the country a sound representation in the EPA negotiation process.

To the participants, the Federal Government needs to put more efforts geared towards sensitising the Nigerian populace for whom the EPA is being negotiated so that they will be aware of the reasons, realities, challenges and implications of every decision taken thereupon.

Although the EU was commended for finally accepting to submit to full duty-free and quota- free market access to ACP countries, the European Commission was enjoined to stop putting undue pressure on the ACPs in the name of meeting deadlines.

"The EC should realise that no agreement is better than any hurried, bad agreement which eventually lacks the elements and merits of achieving the MDG commitments. It should also be recalled that the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) was agreed to be providing the guiding principles for EPA and ought to have been concluded by 2005 (three years before the conclusion of EPA)".

Calling on the Federal Government not to be deterred by the EU’s earlier pronouncement that what is available to the non-LDCs is Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) alternative, the Abuja participants urged Nigeria not to despair with the GSP alternative as the country may after all face insignificant loss in terms of high tariff since her export basket to the EU in terms of manufactures is quite negligible while agricultural raw materials are in high demand by the EU.

In the same vein, participants called on the Nigerian government to initiate a review of the legal and institutional mechanisms and procedural implications of the EPAs negotiations process, and implored ECOWAS to ensure that no commitment is made on ’Singapore issues’ in the EPA.

"Whereas the EU’s DG for Trade, Mr. Falkenberg has insisted that EPA without investment commitment is not acceptable to the EU; however, it should be noted that the ECOWAS region is yet to have a common policy on the issues of investment and competition", they noted.

"It must be noted that the Ministerial Monitoring Committee had in April 2006 resolved that the very first and essential step is to generate a regional framework for West Africa. ECOWAS is presently engaged in this process. Such a framework when in place requires first to become a legal document and this therefore further requires the touch of ratification by member state Parliaments".

"Since this is yet to be achieved, there is therefore no basis upon which negotiation on these issues should stand. Therefore, at most what ECOWAS need is a co-operation on these issues and not a commitment", the participants said.

There are three non-LDCs in West Africa, namely; Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

The forum also witnessed the formation of African journalist on trade and development (AfriTradeMedia), to help focus more and create greater awareness on issues involving trade, growth and development in Nigeria and also the West African region.