Minister cautions West Africa on EPA negotiations with EU

Opening a one-day meeting of regional ministers of trade and finance on 21st March 2013 in Praia, the Cape Verdean capital, the minister said that no country could develop without protecting its industries, warning that the region ran the risk of having its market taken over by European goods with the suggested opening of its market.

He reiterated West Africa’s position that the impending agreement should promote the region’s socio-economic development agenda. The European Union is insisting that West Africa open its market by 80 per cent over 15 years, while the region is offering 70 per cent over 25 years under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations between the two parties which have been stalled for about a year over among other things over the opening of West Africa market and the EPA development Programme (EPADP) and the application of the Most Favoured Nation.

In the intervening period, West Africa has sought to involve regional parliamentarians in the process, who have also engaged with their EU counterparts while Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have signed interim agreements with the EU to retain their export preferences into the EU. West Africa, which includes the 15 ECOWAS Member Stated and Mauritania, is insisting that the EU fund the EPADP, a programme to enable it cope with the consequences of implementing the impending EPA with the injection of 6.5 billion Euro in fresh funds.

The EU has rejected this request, offering instead facilities under the European Development Fund (EDF) and sundry resources for funding including bilateral contributions to West African States. Minister Borges acknowledged that while there have been milestones in the 10-year long negotiations, West Africa must remain focused to ensure that the new trade regime helps to actualise its development objectives, including progressively inserting the region into the global economy, improving the competitiveness of the regional economy and reducing poverty.

In his remarks the President of the ECOWAS Commission, His Excellency Desire Kadre Ouédraogo said the adoption of a regional Common External Tariff (CET) by regional ministers of finance represents a good augury for the success of the meeting.

The EPA is to replace the previous trade arrangements that guided trade relations between West Africa and the European Union. Unlike the previous trade regimes between the two regions, the President said the ongoing negotiations have enabled West Africa to emphasise its development priorities, adding that the EPA should not be seen solely as a trade issue but as a development platform.