Experts from West Africa were meeting in Accra, Ghana, from Wednesday in the latest effort to jump-start the stalled Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations with the European Union (EU).
According to the ECOWAS Commission, the three-day meeting is coming nearly a year after the ten-year long negotiations were suspended over some contentious issues, including market size and duration of market access, as well as the EPA Development Programme (EPADP) to enable West Africa cope with the cost of adjusting to the impending trade regime.
While the region is calling for the injection of an initial 9.5 billion Euros in fresh funds to finance projects under the EPADP, the EU is insisting that the projects be funded from existing European Development Fund (EDF), which totals 6.25 billion Euros, along with other forms of aids and grants to the region.
The last negotiations between the two regions were held on April 2012, five months after the last meeting of the West Africa Ministerial Monitoring Committee (MMC) which coordinates the negotiations.
In the intervening period, West Africa has undertaken various activities in compliance with the directives of the last MMC, including briefing the ECOWAS Parliament which has followed up with its EU counterpart as part of effort to narrow the gaps and bring the negotiations back on track.
This is based on the premise that most of the technical issues in the negotiations have been resolved and further progress will require political intervention.
The negotiations are being held within the framework of establishing a World Trade Organization WTO-compliant trade regime between the EU and the 157 African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, to replace preceding Conventions that have guided trade relations between them.
Some 64 experts, four from each ECOWAS member state and Mauritania, are attending the meeting which will make proposals to narrow the gap with the EU, which is asking for a 70-per cent market access, against West Africa’s position of a 60 per cent market opening over 25 years, while the remaining 40 per cent will be closed during the period to protect its industries.
The region argues that protecting its industries, which cannot survive the onslaught of EU produced goods, is critical to its industrial survival in an increasingly globalised economy.
The Accra meeting will review the status of implementation of the recommendations of the MMC’s 30 November 2011 meeting, as well as the status of work on the regional Common External Tariff (CET).
The experts will also analyse the market access offer for West Africa’s products and other impending issues, including areas of divergence on the EPA text, the rules of origin and the net fiscal impact of the impending agreement on the region’s economies