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West Africa: Oxfam cautions on Economic Partnership Agreements

West Africa: Oxfam Cautions On Economic Partnership Agreements

This Day (Lagos)

April 14, 2006

Onwuka Nzeshi

International civil society organisation, Oxfam yesterday urged West African nations not to mortgage their future by signing on to the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) being negotiated with the European Union. ECOWAS must resist such measures and demand the power to negotiate what is best for the region with an eye to the future.

The call came as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) opened a meeting of trade ministers and experts in Abuja to discuss EPAs, mechanisms considered by the European Union to be reciprocal free trade agreements negotiated with individual countries or groups of nations in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

"West African countries must have the power to decide for themselves when, how and to what extent they choose to open their markets," said Bertram Zagema, trade advisor for Oxfam International on EPAs.

"In their current form, these agreements will undermine farmers’ livelihoods and their ability to develop industry by flooding West African markets with subsidised European goods."

Ghanaian tomatoes and Senegalese chicken are two products that have already been undercut by the enforced lowering of import tariffs, and the threats facing them could spread to other sectors should EPAs be signed.

Lower tariffs have flooded their markets with cheap chicken and tomatoes, which has sent local production plummeting.

Factories that were transforming tomatoes into paste or processing Poultry have closed, which meant that badly needed jobs have been cut.

Producers have seen prices for their crops sink, sending many of them deeper into debt and forcing others off the land they have farmed for generations.

According to Zagem, compelling West African countries to liberalise their markets prematurely means that they will have no time to develop their industries in the future, adding that the idea that EPAs are a tool for development was a myth that would only enhance Europe’s ability to flood poor countries with its products.

Regional integration, Zagema said, was key to African Growth and development and must be allowed to flourish, with trade pacts that maintain the special export preferences for the world’s least developed countries.

"Until more revenue for African countries comes from sources other than export tariffs, those preferences must be maintained.

Europe failed to push through its efforts to expand its reach in African markets at the World Trade Organization talks last year and is trying again with these EPAs," said Zagema.

"ECOWAS trade ministers must resist such measures and demand the power to negotiate what is best for the region with an eye to the future."

 source: This Day