Accra, Ghana (PANA) - West Africa's Ministers responsible for coordinating negotiations to create a regional free trade area with the European Union (EU) are due to hold crucial talks in Accra, Ghana, on Wednesday on the way forward in the negotiations, following disagreements over some issues, the ECOWAS Commission said in a statement obtained by PANA here Tuesday.
The one-day meeting of ECOWAS Trade Ministers, together with their counterpart from Mauritania under the aegis of the Ministerial Monitoring Committee (MMC), is to chart a way forward in the negotiations based on the recommendations of a preceding meeting of experts which is also taking place in Accra.
The negotiations, launched in 2004 with the adoption of a road map, were intended to produce a successor agreement to various Conventions that had guided trade relations between the two regions, and which would be compliant with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
They were to have been concluded by 2007 but have been dogged by divergences mainly over the financing of the EPA Development Programme (EPADP), a US$16 billion programme for addressing the costs of adjustment and implementation of the EPA; as well as the status of the community levy for funding ECOWAS; the most favoured nation (MFN) clause and the scope of market access offer.
Regional leaders have insisted on a credible source of funding the programme in fresh funds from the EU, which argues instead that the programme be funded from existing funds under the European Development Fund (EDF) and other sources.
The disagreements also concerns 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, while West Africa is offering 70 per cent of its market to be liberalised over 25 years.
The region is worried that its burgeoning industries could be destroyed by a deluge of goods from the EU with its agricultural sector becoming a victim to subsidised products from the EU.
Two ECOWAS member states - Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana - which signed an interim agreement with the EU in 2007 in order to preserve the trade preferences they enjoy in the EU market, are under intense pressure to ratify the agreement by December 2013.
Similarly, Cape Verde which has just been upgraded to a developing country status, which means the loss of its privileges under the existing trade preference arrangement, is also being pressured to sign a bilateral agreement with the EU by the end of December 2011.
The implication is that West Africa could be left with a multiplicity of trade regimes which could impact negatively on the region's integration efforts.
The regional ministers are therefore expected to issue directives to forestall this scenario which has the potential of affecting the conclusion of the regional EPA before the deadlines to these countries.
-0- PANA SEG 29Nov2011