Reuters | Wed 13 Feb 2008
Ivory Coast says EPA deal will lead way for region
By Loucoumane Coulibaly
ABIDJAN (Reuters) — Ivory Coast will sign a definitive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe in June, which it believes will open the door for other West African countries, a minister said on Wednesday.
African Integration Minister Amadou Kone said Ivory Coast was advising regional powerhouse Nigeria on how to seal an EPA, designed to replace preferential trade terms for former European colonies that expired last year.
Nigeria has so far publicly shunned any talk of a deal.
Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world’s top cocoa exporters, broke ranks with their partners in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) last year to sign interim deals to safeguard favourable terms for their key agricultural exports.
Other ECOWAS states had insisted the European Union’s December 31 deadline last year for signing was too soon and they pushed back their target for an agreement to mid-2009.
As well as belonging to ECOWAS, which includes anglophone countries, Ivory Coast is the economic motor of the smaller, more closely-integrated francophone bloc, the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA).
"We have the authorisation of the UEMOA to sign the definitive agreement by June 2008," Kone told a news conference, adding this would be done before June 30.
"This ... will give a blast of acceleration which should allow ECOWAS to conclude a regional EPA in the coming months."
The interim deals signed by Ivory Coast and Ghana only cover trade while the definitive EPAs are expected also to cover services and a host of other areas such as intellectual property and government procurement.
The interim deal immediately removes tariffs on nearly all African imports to Europe and will gradually phase out customs on European goods arriving in the region over 15 years.
ECOWAS has given its blessing for its 15 member states to sign interim trade deals but has urged them to move forward as a bloc to the signing of a regional EPA.
"We support Nigeria. For around a month we have been working with Ghana and Nigeria to see how Nigeria could sign an EPA," he said.
West Africa is one of six regional groupings of nearly 80 mainly poor former colonies around the world that benefited from preferential trade terms with Europe that expired at the end of last year under World Trade Organisation rules demanding reciprocity in trade agreements.