Reuters | December 13 2007
Ghana joins rush to secure EU trade
By Kwasi Kpodo
ACCRA, Dec 13 (Reuters) — Ghana signed an interim trade deal with the European Union on Thursday, joining a rush among poor countries to safeguard exports to the world’s biggest trading bloc after preferential terms expire at the end of the year.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) deems favourable EU trade terms for nearly 80 African, Caribbean and Pacific former colonies illegal and a waiver expires on Dec. 31.
Brussels had hoped to sign WTO-compliant economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with six regional blocs covering a host of trade and investment issues, but talks with West Africa and other regions missed the deadline, leaving those countries worst-affected, such as Ghana, scrambling for an interim deal.
"This stepping stone agreement helps therefore to avoid serious trade disruption between Ghana and the European Union," Ghanaian Trade and Industries Minister Joe Badoe-Ansah said when he signed the interim deal in Ghana’s capital Accra.
"This interim agreement, which covers good only, will be replaced by the full and comprehensive EPA when it is concluded," he said.
Neighbouring Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower, was the first West African country to initial an interim deal on trade in goods last week, in a move some said broke ranks with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
But ECOWAS Commission President Mohamed Ibn Chambas said the regional bloc supported specific interim deals by individual member states to safeguard goods exports, so long as they did not pre-empt talks on a broader regional EPA text.
"We definitely do not object to these individual negotiations with the EU, while we continue to engage our European partners in order to resolve the thorny issues around the substantive EPA," Chambas told Reuters in an interview.
Regional-level talks would resume on Dec. 17, he said.
"The European Commission reiterates its commitment to promote regional integration in West Africa and underlines that this agreement is a stepping stone towards the negotiation of a full Economic Partnership Agreement with the West Africa Region," the European Commission said in a statement.
Like the deal struck last week by Ivory Coast, Ghana’s deal provides for the immediate abolition of tariffs on virtually all exports to Europe, and for the gradual dismantling over 15 years of tariffs on 80 percent of imports from the 27-member bloc.
The remaining 20 percent of imports are deemed "sensitive products" which will be subject to tariffs even after the 15-year transition period to promote economic development, food security, employment and government revenue generation.
The deal also abolished quotas on Ghana’s banana and tuna exports, meaning the country could ship as much of those products to the EU as it could sell, said Filiberto Ceriani Sebregondi, head of European Commission delegation in Ghana.
Even after Dec. 1, the poorest countries will still qualify for preferential trade terms under Europe’s "everything but arms" initiative, making it more urgent for the slightly better off countries to strike alternative trade deals.
But the biggest ECOWAS economy, Nigeria, has shunned any deal and its huge oil exports would be unaffected.
(Additional reporting by William Schomberg in Brussels; writing by Alistair Thomson; editing by Daniel Flynn)