Regional experts meet to push free trade pact with EU

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    As West African regional experts meet here to help pep up the lingering negotiation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), a Ghanaian Minister on Monday urged  them to help the region avoid a situation where the non conclusion of the pact will leave the region with different trade regimes.

    Opening the meeting of regional experts and their counterparts from Mauritania, Minister of Trade and Industry Hanna Tetteh said the region was in a delicate position with the seven-year-old negotiation, and warned of the dangers posed to regional integration by a multiplicity of trade regimes in the aftermath of the non conclusion of the regional EPA.

    The negotiation for a free trade agreement between the two regions was launched in 2004 following the adoption of the road map, and was expected to have been concluded in 2007.

    It has however been inconclusive because of the divergence between the two parties.

    In order to avoid losing the preferences they enjoy in  exporting to countries of the EU, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana signed an interim agreement with the EU in December 2010, which is expected to lapse with the conclusion of the regional EPA.

    The negotiations have been dogged by difficulties over divergence on a variety of issues, mainly the financing of the EPA Development Programme ( EPADP), a US$16 billion programme for addressing the costs of adjustment and implementation of the EPA; the status of the community levy for funding ECOWAS; the most favored nation (MFN clause) and the scope of market access offer.

    Regional leaders had asked for a credible source of funding the programme in new funds from the EU, which in turn argues that the programme be funded from existing funds under the European Development Fund (EDF) and other sources.

    There are also disagreements over the schedule of opening of West Africa’s markets to products from the EU, which is insisting on an 80 per cent market access over 12 to 15 years, contrary to the West Africa offer of 70 per cent of its market to be liberalised over 25 years.

    The region is worried that opening it’s market so widely over a short period will result in the swamping of the region with products from the EU, which will virtually destroy West Africa’s burgeoning industries, including its agriculture which will suffer from subsidised products from the EU.

    The two-day meeting of the experts, who also met in May 2010 in Bamako, is to enable ECOWAS officials brief the experts on the status of implementation of the recommendations of the last meeting of the Ministerial  Monitoring Committee, also held in Bamako.

    The meeting will be followed on Wednesday by that of the Ministerial Monitoring Committee (MMC), the ministers responsible for negotiating the EPA in member states

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