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ECOWAS lawmakers caution on EU trade pact | September 6, 2010

ECOWAS lawmakers caution on EU trade pact

By Bassey Udo

West African lawmakers have cautioned against any decision to open up the region’s market “too wide and hastily” to the European Union (EU) as part of the concession for reaching a trade agreement between the two regions.

Both regions have since 2003 been negotiating a World Trade Organisation (WTO)-compliant Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) for the creation of a free trade area that would define their trade and economic relations for the next 20 years.

But, at the end of a two-day stakeholder sensitization programme in Accra, Ghana, the lawmakers expressed concern about the potential impact of exposing the 70 per cent of the region’s market and productive capacity on the basis of a liberalisation schedule.

The sensitization is part of a three-part programme for Parliamentarians, Private Sector Operators, representatives of civil society and the media in order to ensure citizen awareness and ownership of the process.

Issues covered in the sensitization include an overview of the trade development in West Africa, the status of the negotiations, the draft text of the agreement, West Africa’s market access offer and the negotiations on the rules of origin and mutual administration assistance.

The lawmakers urged regional leaders to “strongly defend their position” regarding the proposal by the EU for the scrapping of 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 and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA).

Among the other key recommendations were the ‘greater involvement of parliamentarians in the trade negotiations process’; regular stakeholder sensitization; representation of the region’s parliamentarians in a proposed Joint Parliamentary Committee to accompany the negotiations, and strengthening the technical committees.

Moreover, they stressed the need to address the development dimension of the Economic Partnership Agreement, ensure the harmonisation of the positions of the two regions and evaluate the consequences of the financial and social crises in Europe as well as the financial, energy and food crisis in West Africa on the negotiations.

Remove the blocks

Concerned about the multiplicity of trade regimes in the region, the legislators underscored the need for an impact assessment of the recent agreements on regional integration, stressing that efforts should be made for the speedy conclusion of the EPA negotiations in order to remove the stumbling block the two agreements pose to the region.

ECOWAS Commission President, James Gbeho, has reiterated the Community’s resolve to ensure that economic relationships with partners contributed to the realization of the region’s development objectives bordering on economic growth, reduction and eventual eradication of poverty, regional integration and the ultimate integration of the ECOWAS region into the world economy.

Besides, he said that the region will also ensure that such trade arrangements or relationships were compatible with WTO rules and procedures.