The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has vigorously defended its insistence on substantial European Union (EU) contribution to a comprehensive regional programme to develop West Africa’s infrastructure.
The contribution is also to help the region cope with the adjustment costs, particularly the destabilizing effects of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) for a free trade area between the two regions on the regional economy, a statement from ECOWAS on Tuesday said.
It said the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Mr James Victor Gbeho, told a visiting EU official that “development and improving the living standards of our people are the basis for integration and that the development aspect has to be taken into consideration” in the negotiation.
The EPA Development Programme (EPADP) would help West Africa address its infrastructure deficit and improve the competitiveness of its products so that the EPA will become mutually beneficial for producers in the two regions, instead of becoming a tool for dumping EU goods into the West African market.
Twelve of the 15 Member States of ECOWAS are classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and rely significantly on customs duties as a critical source of government revenue which would be affected by the EPA.
“The EPADP revolves around the following five axes of diversification and increase of production capacity – development of intra-regional trade and facilitation of access to global markets; improving and strengthening trade-related national and regional infrastructure; realization of adjustment costs and other trade-related needs as well as EPA implementation and monitoring.”
The statement said the negotiations had slowed down mostly because of the twin issues of the EPADP and market access.
“While West Africa is expecting EU contribution of at least US$25 billion to the EPADP, the EU is insisting that the six billion Euros available under existing bilateral and multilateral assistance should be used instead of pledging fresh funds.”
There is also disagreement over the issue of market access with West Africa offering a 70 per cent liberalization and 30 per cent exclusion of access to its market over a 25-year period with a five-year moratorium contrary to the EU position.
Gbeho told the EU Director General for Trade in the EU Commission, Mr. Peter Thompson, that by insisting on the programme, regional officials were acting in line with their mandate which was recently renewed by regional leaders at their last summit held in February 2010.
While praising the EU as a “strong partner”, Gbeho expressed the hope that a forthcoming meeting of officials of the two regions in Brussels would “make progress” on the outstanding issues, acknowledging that substantial progress has been made with the negotiations since it started in August 2004.
While Mr. Thompson, who is on a visit to Nigeria for bilateral discussions, acknowledged the “incredible progress” that has been made with the negotiations,he pointed out that it has reached a point to resort to a â?political resolution of the outstanding issues”.
He also stressed the need to “get the balance right” between protecting local industries under the market access offer and liberalizing the market as envisaged under the EPA agreement, arguing that the introduction of a regional Common External Tariff and liberalization of trade will lead to greater integration of the regional economy.