Western Africa: Ghanaian EPA with EU would put integration process in danger

Gyekye Tanoh, of TWN-A, at the
forum. (Photo: MyJoyOnline)

Sources: BusinessGhana, ThinkGhana, Ghana Business News, MyJoyOnline, GhanaWeb, AllAfrica

Several Ghanaian civil society organizations warned that the renewal of the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the country and the European Union (EU) will condemn the Western Africa integration process and the national economy to an irreparable doom. The Third World Network-Africa (TWN-A, focal point of Social Watch), the General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), the Integrated Social Development Centre (Isodec) and Abantu for Development, among other groups, said the government must not give in and sign an agreement which will be harmful to the long-term development goals and aspirations of the country.

There was unanimity among the organizations at a forum in Accra that ratifying the agreement will represent an economic crime against the state. The forum comes ahead of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Ministerial Monitoring Committee meeting on EPAs, scheduled to take place this month in Accra.

Ghana initialled a separate interim EPA with the EU in December 2007 to end uncertainty and protect a very small group of exporters who depend almost exclusively on the EU market since their products would have attracted additional tariffs upon expiration of the non-reciprocal trade regime.

The EPAs are reciprocal trade arrangements that the EU is seeking to forge with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries in place of the preferential regime under the Cotonou Agreement, which allows  tariff and duty free exports into the EU.

Gyekye Tanoh, head of TWN-A's Political Economy Unit, asked the government to dump the interim EPA it had signed with the EU about four years ago, saying it poses a threat to regional integration in the West African sub-region.

Tanoh said Ghana’s continuous use of the interim EPA is a threat to the re-positioning of the national economy and to regional integration in the ECOWAS, and undermines the bloc's position concerning those agreements.

“Today, more than 90 per cent of Ghana’s most dynamic manufacturing exports go to the West Africa sub-region. As we have already discussed, the EPAs directly undermine this,” he said.

He warned the interim EPAs would further split and derail harmonisation of West Africa’s regional position and regional integration. “We therefore urge the GhanaianGovernment to reject the interim EPAs and join the ECOWAS harmonisation and integration process as the country’s current approach has introduced confusion in these regional EPA processes,” Mr Tanoh said.

Ghana’s current stance further threatens to introduce multiple trade regimes in West Africa, which would be a very dangerous step, he added. Ghana’s position is also holding  the country’s economy and the much larger Ghanaian exporting community that is less dependent on the EU market to ransom

The argument that some companies would have suffered if the interim EPA had not been signed was not a very sustainable one,  Tanohadded. What is important, he insisted, is that the cost of the tariffs that would be imposed on the few products exported to Europe be juxtaposed with the cost to the country’s economy if it is opened  to Europe.

The government created an Export Development and Investment Fund (EDIF), with the objective to “enhance the economic growth of Ghana by the provision of funds on concessionary terms for the development and promotion of the country’s export,” but the EPA would make that illegal, he said.

Tanoh said it was extremely dangerous to open the market up simply   to protect a few agricultural products.

The executive director of the women's rights organization Abantu for Development, Rose Mensah-Kutin, who chaired the forum, said Ghana is in the midst of a crisis.

She said if Ghana’s streets are already swarming with teeming jobless young men and women,  Ghanaians should be worried because the situation could get worse if the EPAs are signed and the economy takes a turn for the worse.

David Persey, a consultant to the Ghana National Association of Poultry Farmers, said the government must declare its stance –whether it is with the people of Ghana or with the Europeans. According to Persey, the EPA was designed to further the interest of Europe, and that there was no basis for the government of Ghana to even be contemplating signing it.

Citing the poultry industry, he said, Ghana used to produce enough to meet domestic needs with its concomitant effects on jobs and wealth creation. However, since the day the government repealed its own law in 2003 originally intended to protect the industry, and allowed unlimited importation of poultry products, the investments of citizens who toiled to build structures for the production and processing of poultry have gone under the drain because cheap products have flooded the market.