New trade talks with Europe – Billions of Dollars at stake for West Africa

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 February 2013

West African countries are missing out massively on trade with Europe, costing the sub-region billions of dollars in lost revenues, simply because of EU trade barriers.

With rising poverty, very high youth unemployment and lack of investments in most West African countries, Europe must demonstrate an enlightened self-interest in helping economic growth in those countries.

The ever growing possibility of political and social instability, fuelled by an army of unemployed and disaffected youths, must give cause for concern in European capitals.

Hence, it is argued that by Europe breaking down the trade barriers it has put up against products from West Africa, both sides will benefit immensely; economically, politically and socially.

Today’s report says that talks between the two sides have reopened, giving cause for renewed hope.  West Africa’s experts are meeting in Accra, Ghana, on Wednesday, 20th February 2013 in the latest effort to jump-start the stalled Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations with the EU.

The meeting comes 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 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 aid and grants to the region.

The last negotiations between the two regions were held in April 2012, five months after the last meeting of the West African 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. This includes briefing the ECOWAS Parliament, which has followed up with its EU counterpart, as part of efforts 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.

This should replace preceding Conventions that have guided trade relations between the two sides. Some 64 experts, four from each ECOWAS Member State and Mauritania, are attending the three-day meeting, which will make proposals to narrow the gap with the EU.

The EU 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.

West African nations argue that protecting their industries, which cannot survive the onslaught of EU produced goods, is critical to their industrial survival, in an increasingly globalised economy.

The Accra meeting will review the status of implementation of the recommendations of the MMC’s 30th 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 West African economies.

The meeting is being attended by experts from member states’ ministries that are responsible for the negotiations; ministries of finance, as well as representatives of the organised private sector and civil society organisations.

And in a separate development, the African Union’s Pan-African Parliament (PAP), will host opinion leaders, representatives from the grass-roots  civil society organizations, academia, and parliamentarians from across the globe, at the final meeting of the Global Thematic Consultation on Governance and the Post-2015 Development Framework.

The meeting will be taking place on 28 February to 1 March 2013, at the Pan-African Parliament, Gallagher Estate, Midrand (Johannesburg), South Africa.

Co-led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), delegates will discuss the potential contribution of governance and accountability to a new global development paradigm, underpinned by human rights principles and standards.

The event will be preceded by a series of pre-meetings, also to be attended by former African Heads of States, from 24 to 27 February, 2013.

These meetings will highlight progress being made by African countries in democracy-building, strengthening regional governance processes and developing a bold vision of the “Africa We Want Post-2015”.

The Global consultation on Governance will conclude with a report that will contribute to international discussions on the post-2015 development framework.

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