West Africa’s ministers of finance and trade have adopted the compromise proposals for concluding the decade-long negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) for a free trade area of the two regions, the ECOWAS Commission said in a statement.
It said the impending agreement would replace the previous trade regimes between them and comply with the requirements of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
At the end of a meeting of the ministers under the aegis of the Ministerial Monitoring Committee (MMC) in Dakar, Senegal, the ministers adopted the compromises proposed during the preceding meetings of senior officials and chief negotiators.
The proposals examined by the ministers emanated from the 6 Feb. meeting of the chief negotiators of the two parties held in Brussels where they endorsed the concessions made during the 24 Jan. meeting of their senior officials held in Dakar in order to resolve their divergences’ and conclude the negotiations.
The compromise proposals are in the areas of market access, where the region has agreed to liberalise 75 per cent of its market over a 20 year transition period, based on a scheduled tariff dismantling scheduled, a major shift from its initial position of 60 per cent over 25 years.
There were also compromises on the other contentious issues of the EPA Development Fund (EPADP) for which the region had asked for 16 billion euros in new resources from the EU to enable it address its infrastructure deficits ahead of the implementation of the agreement.
As part of the compromises, both parties agreed on the priority needs valued at 6. 5 billion euros and centred around trade, industry, agriculture, infrastructure, energy and capacity building with the EU, its member states and the European Investment Bank agreeing to find a way to match the expressed needs with funding.
The impending conclusion of the negotiations will end an era of different trade regimes in the region, following the 2007 signing of interim EPA’s by Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana in order to maintain their preferential access to the EU market.
The ministers proposed that further consultations should be organised for the private sector, civil society organisations and other stakeholders prior to the next Council of Ministers, where the proposals will be considered before consideration and adoption by Heads of State and Government.