ECOWAS ministers were due to begin an extraordinary session in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, from Monday (30Sept) to discuss the latest proposals to revive stalled negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU).
Both sides missed opportunities in 2007 and 2009 to conclude the Agreement, part of a comprehensive trade package being negotiated by the EU with the 52 countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries for a World Trade Organization-compliant trade regime that will replace previous trade arrangements between them.
The enlarged meeting of the Council of Ministers, comprising ministers responsible for regional integration in member states, will also discuss the regional five-band Common External Tariff (CET), which was approved by ministers of finance in March 2013, and the Monetary Cooperation Programme for the creation of an ECOWAS single currency.
According to the ECOWAS Commission, the main issue with the CET relates to a proposal for a new Integration Community Levy to replace the existing 0.5 per cent Community Levy used to finance the Community and its programmes.
The two-day meeting, which also involves ministers responsible for finance and trade, was called as part of preparation for the 25 Oct. 2013 extraordinary summit of Heads of State and Government of the region scheduled to take place in Dakar, Senegal, and which will take decisions on the lingering issues.
The outcome of the summit is expected to enable the region to resume the ten-year-old EPA negotiations of a WTO compatible trade regime between West Africa and Europe.
The negotiations have stalled mainly over the size and duration of market access offer, with the EU insisting on a minimum 80-per cent liberalisation while ECOWAS has shifted its position to 75 per cent from an initial 60 per cent as a gesture of good faith.
West Africa is also insisting on a phased tariff dismantling process and the exclusion of some products in order to protect its nascent industrial sector from being wiped off by imports from the more competitive industries of the EU.
Europe is West Africa’s major trading partner, taking in 33.3 per cent of its exports, mainly agricultural products, while accounting for 32.7 per of the region’s imports mainly vehicles, parts, machinery and capital goods.
Negotiations are also stalled over the size and funding for the EPA Development Programme with West Africa asking for some 16 billion Euros in new injection of funds to enable it overcome the cost of adjustment to the impending trade regime, including addressing its infrastructure deficit to improve the competitiveness of the region’s industries.
EU however, insists that existing funding under its phased Development window is sufficient.
There are also the contentious issues of the Most Favoured Nation clause, an EU request to enjoy trade preferences offered by West Africa to other trading partners and the non-execution clause that empowers the EU to take action against any West African country in breach of the fundamental elements in the Cotonou Agreement that is politically related.
As the negotiations dragged on, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana have signed interim agreements with the EU in order to retain the trade preferences enjoyed by their exports into the European market, leaving the region with four trade regimes that could stifle the region’s effort to create a common market.