Economic Partnerships with Europe can thwart Africa’s Industrialization efforts

Gyekye Tanoh. (Photo: Gulf Times)

The Economic Justice Network (EJN), a coalition of Ghanaian civil society organizations, has cautioned African countries involved in the negotiation of the Economic Partnership Agreements not to succumb to the pressure from European Union to sign the agreement as it has the potential of disintegrating the regional economies, reported several communications media.

Gyekye Tanoh, of TWN-Africa, stated at a workshop held earlier this month in Ghana that there is “evidence of resistance” to the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). Civil society organizations can do an even better “resistance” at a time that the EU is much weaker and going through a crisis of its own with its economic and monetary union.

EPAs would destabilize Africa’s effort to industrialize as well as its ability to move up the value chain, thereby turning the continent into a perpetual supplier of raw materials, according to the EJN, wrote journalist Mohammed Suleman, of Public Agenda (Accra).

Those agreements will also impact adversely on food security and rural livelihoods since the European Union has not indicated its willingness to abolish its agricultural subsidies. This, the EJN noted, could result in a major competition against African milk, poultry, pork beef and cereals, among other products.

“At the present, these subsidies and domestic supports are not being removed at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or in the EPA negotiation," it added.

EPAs are a scheme to create a Free Trade Area between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states. They are a response to continuing criticism that the non-reciprocal and discriminating preferential trade agreements offered by the EU are incompatible with WTO rules.

The EPAs are a key element of the Cotonou Agreement, the latest agreement in the history of the EU development cooperation with its African, Caribbean and Pacific former colonies, and were supposed to take effect as of 2008, but as of now, the negotiations are not yet completed.

The concerns in issue were raised at a day's workshop organized by the EJN in Accra earlier this month, aimed at updating participants on the current debate on the EPA negotiations and their negative implications for Ghana's industrial development.

Tetteh Hormeku, Head of Programmes at the Third world Network-Ghana (TWN-Ghana), said at the workshop that a decision by Ghana to sign its own EPA would undermine Africa’s attempt to have a common agreement with the with the EU which meets the differential development levels and needs of countries in the region.

He disclosed that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was locked in disagreement with the EU over fundamental elements of the EPA, such as the percentage of European goods that the region was prepared to allow in as duty free as well as the period over which such liberalization should take place.

He explained that while EU insisted on 80% of goods being allowed in duty-free entry over a period of 15 years, ECOWAS opted for 60% over a period of 25 years.

The 60% percent was meant to cope with the needs of countries as diverse as that of The Gambia and Nigeria.

According to him, Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana agreed on interim EPAs with the EU and the terms of those agreements were inconsistent with the position of West Africa. Both countries provided for 80% of tariff liberalization for the EU goods over a period of 15 years. The deals, he said, also accepted other controversial EU demands such as export taxes.

Ibrahim Akalbila, of the Trades and Livelihood Coalition, opined that there was the need for Ghana to negotiate as part of the regional bloc but not as an individual country. According to him, there were a number of common agricultural policies in West African that had not been implemented as a result of loose integration.

Participants at the event were unanimous in their call to government not sign onto the EPA.

Negotiations between ECOWAS and the EU on the Economic Partnership Agreements, EPAs reached a deadlock at a meeting held in Brussels, last month, reported Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.

West African negotiators and their EU counterparts could not agree on four key areas, including the level of market access to EU goods and development programmes and benchmarks.

Ghana together with its Ivorian counterpart initialed the Interim EPA’s in 2007. Since then, Ghana has not been able to make a choice as to sign or not to sign the final EPAs.

This situation and the fact that Ghana is not exploring other alternatives including the Solidarity Fund agreed upon by a meeting of the ECOWAS Ministerial body hosted in Accra by Ghana is a source of worry to civil society organizations, among them the EJN.

Speaking to Radio Ghana after the workshop, Sylvester Bagooro, of the Third World Network-Africa, said civil society organizations expect Ghana to take the lead to persuade other countries within the sub- region to pursue the idea of the solidarity Fund option in order to find a regional solution to a regional problem.

He said even though there is a deadlock in the negotiations the EU is still pressuring Ghana to rectify the interim agreements by 2014 or lose its market access. Bagooro said the only way to counter the EU's agenda is for ECOWAS to solve its own problems.

The workshop closed with the 25 participants calling to “re-orient” at a “critical time” when the Europe is going through a financial crisis.

Edward Kareweh, deputy general secretary of the General Agricultural Workers' Union of Ghana, explained that there were three elements leading to the deterioration: the first was the role of Nigeria and how it had said no to the EPAs; secondly, the role of Ghana in initialing the interim EPA, and how that was an entry point for Europe to get to the rest of Anglophone Africa; and finally, Cote d’Ivoire, which had actually signed an interim EPA.

Bagooro added that the civil society networking of the EJN group would be re-launched with a defined agenda and an action plan, and that they needed to develop an approach on development issues and key moments

The EJN is a coalition of Ghanaian civil society organizations fighting for economic justice. TWN-A holds the interim secretariat

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