ECOWAS Ministers to adopt platform for trade negotiations

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- ECOWAS Ministers of Trade and Finance met in Cotonou, Benin, Wednesday to agree a framework for negotiations with the European Union (EU), under the June 2000 Cotonou partnership agreement between the Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.
An ECOWAS release said negotiations under the agreement, the successor to the ACP/EU Lome (Togo) Conventions, are due for official launcing in Brussels 27 September.
The agreement defines the parameters for new trade and economic relations between the two groups for the next 20 years.
During the Cotonou meeting, the Ministers will consider reports of the preceding two-day meeting of ECOWAS experts, which made proposals on critical elements of the negotiations including areas of priority action, a negotiating mandate for the sub-region, structure and development financing.
The negotiations are to be held in two phases -- all ACP and with the sub-regions -- and at the three levels of ACP/EU, WTO and Regional Economic Partnership Agreement (REPA).
In a message to the meeting, ECOWAS Chairman, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, said the meeting reflected the sub-region's interest in the issue of trade and urged the Ministers to use the platform to identify the priority concerns of the sub-region so that the agreement could be exploited to promote development.
He identified market access and the promotion of integration among the priorities that should concern the Ministers as the ACP countries prepare to open their markets to Europe in 2020 under the Cotonou agreement.
The ECOWAS Chairman challenged Member States to institute programmes of capacity building and others that will enhance their capacity to cope with the consequences of the implementation of the agreement.
Wade, who is the Deputy Chairman of the Steering Committee of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), said the continent should be able to "obtain" flexibility while complying with the rules of the agreement, adding that ECOWAS should promote its interest through unity built on dynamism, solidarity and the mobilisation of key actors.
In his speech, the Executive Secretary of ECOWAS, Mohamed Ibn Chambas lamented that two decades of preferential trade access to Europe and substantial financial assistance under the Lome Conventions had not significantly improved the economies of the 77 ACP States, which are still dependent on the export of a "small number of commodities whose prices have continued to fall.
" "Up till today, there has been very little diversification in the economies of West African countries, indeed, most of them still rely excessively on a few basic commodities and petrol," he said, adding: "but it is a well-known fact that sustainable development cannot be achieved without adequate diversification of the economy.
" Chambas said the Cotonou meeting would enable the sub-region adopt a "coherent negotiating strategy based on policy and economic adjustment measures aimed at improving the performance of the countries in order to benefit fully from the partnership.
" Within the framework of regional economic integration, the agreement seeks to promote the smooth and progressive integration of ACP States into the world economy, enable them face the challenges of globalisation and adapt to the new conditions of world trade.
Chambas said that as part of the preparatory process, an agreement had been signed with the Harare-based African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), to finance a programme of assistance to the regional committee of experts and Member States to prepare them adequately for the negotiations.
He said a meeting of the programme's steering committee holds in Cotonou Thursday to launch the programme, adding that ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), have presented a joint request for resources from the 20 million-Euro provided by the EU under its capacity building programme.
The money is to finance meetings of the regional committee of experts as part of this process.
Chambas also disclosed that ECOWAS has obtained a grant under the European Development Fund (EDF) to finance two studies on the impact of impending Regional Economic Partnership Agreement (REPA) on the economies of Member States and the compatibility of their trade policies with the regional trade agreements.
The Benin Minister of State for the Co-ordination of Government activities and Development, Bruno Amoussou, who opened the meeting, stressed the need for ECOWAS countries to de-emphasis internal divisions and strengthen their cohesion and solidarity for the ultimate benefit of their 15-nation Community.
The meeting is expected to adopt the sub-region's position on the critical issues involved in the trade negotiations.

12 september 2002 16:21:00

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