W. Africa accepts year-end EU trade deal deadline
Tue 6 Feb 2007
By Ingrid Melander
BRUSSELS, Feb 6 (Reuters) — West African countries said on Tuesday they had agreed to conclude a new trade deal with the European Union by the end of this year and drop demands for a two-year delay.
In a joint statement with the EU, they said the decision to set an end-2007 deadline for an Economic and Partnership Agreement (EPA) was made on condition that an agreement be reached on compensatory funding by the EU and a calendar for opening markets.
Central African countries also agreed to work to meet the deadline in a separate meeting on Tuesday, the European Commission said.
Western Africa leaders had initially argued that their economies needed more time to face increased competition from EU products in their markets.
"It is clear it will be difficult, but they have committed to try and conclude this year," said Amadeu Altafaj, spokesman for EU aid chief Louis Michel.
The EU and its executive Commission have promised 2 billion euros a year from 2010 in aid-for-trade to developing countries, many of them in the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. That money would be spent on training, infrastructures and facilitating paper and customs work for exports.
Many developing countries say the EU is too aggressive in its demands for concluding EPAs, which Brussels denies. The talks were launched more than four years ago but have made little progress.
African states are particularly concerned by the fact that, under the new deal, they would progressively need to eliminate tariffs on EU products.
The EU said it was committed to offering full duty-free, quota-free access "to the greatest extent possible" for West African goods, taking account of regional interests.