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ECOWAS urges caution on EU trade deal

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Monday, 20 September 2010

ECOWAS urges caution on EU trade deal

Representatives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have cautioned against any decision to open up the region’s market “too wide and too hastily” to the European Union (EU) as part of the concession for reaching an economic partnership agreement (EPA) between the two regions. Negotiations have been underway since 2003 and once signed they “will determine trade relations between the two regions for the next 20 years,” added the representatives who have been meeting in Accra since the beginning of September this year, according to a press release received by Ouestafnews. “The representatives expressed concern about the potential impact on the production capacities in the region as a result of opening 70 percent of the region’s markets.” They also cautioned against scrapping ECOWAS levies imposed on imports into the region from third countries as they constitute’ independent sources of financing regional integration as well as funding the Community’s activities. The EPA negotiations have been the toughest test of strength between the EU and Africa since the independence period, and remain unsigned, despite having long passed the EU deadline. A strong movement of resistance among civil society and various other stakeholders who fear for the survival of a weak African industrial base should the agreements come into effect have largely contributed to blocking progress in the negotiations. In addition, both in Africa and beyond, experts have criticized the approach and the unequal power relationships in the negotiation process. “The organization of these negotiations has simply reinforced the inequalities of economic power between the EU and the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific groups of countries),” noted Ablassé Ouédraogo from Burkina Faso. The ACP countries “divided into little groups are taking on the most powerful and experienced negotiating structure, the European Commission,” he added. “The term “partnership” suggests that it is an agreement between equals, but the reality is that the less developed countries and the EU cannot be equal partners,” according to American economist, Joseph Stiglitz. Trade between the EU and West Africa is estimated to be worth 15 billion euros and is considered by the European Commission to be “globally balanced”. The EU exports mainly industrial products and vehicles (80 percent of exports), whereas West African exports are principally made up of petrol from Nigeria (50 percent of West African exports) and tropical agricultural products (cocoa, bananas, pineapples and timber) coming mainly from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Since the independence years fifty years ago, most African countries have generally been quick to sign agreements offered by Europe, the continent of former colonial powers, sometimes to the detriment of the interests of the majority of Africans. According to analysts, the emergence of new economic powers on the world stage, while not completely overthrowing the old relationships of power, has certainly offered a new alternative to the African continent.

Source: Ouestaf.com