ECOWAS ministers limit the damage
December 5th was a day of fear. We HAD just learnt that Ivory Coast had signed an Economic Patnership Agreement(EPA) with the European Union.
On December 9th? at the EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon, President Wade of Senegal declared that the majority of West African countries did not accept the partnership agreements as proposed by the EU and wished to negotiate Partnership Development Agreements (PDAs)instead.
After the Ivory Coast signature, Ghana declared, on December 12th, that it was going to sign a temporary agreement with the EU. What is the state of play at this moment?
In short, to quote the a headline from the daily paper LE PAYS of Burkina Faso "Ministers limited the damage" at their meeting on December 17th and "managed, with a degree of success to put the broken pieces back together".
Well, we have come a long way!
First of all it should be pointed out that Ivory Coast and Ghana have not signed an Economic Partnership Agreement. They have merely put their initials on an intermediary document that may be seen as a first step. Their commitment is therefore not as far reaching as an actual agreement. The full signing is not to take place until June this year. Thereafter Parliaments will have to give their approval ...
Thus the ECOWAS Council of Ministers has made every effort to adjust the course of events, harmonise their positions and avoid irreversible damage.
1. The text intialled by the EU and Ivory Coast states that other countries in the sub-region wishing to enter into an EPA become co-signatories without prior negotiations to defend their own interests.
At the Ouagadougou meeting those which did enter into the intermediate agreement accepted to reverse their stance : such agreements should be changed so as to be aligned with the regional negotiating process.
2. The principle of a regional agreement covering all West African countries was reconfirmed.
3. Ministers emphasised the need to speed up the harmonisation of their different standpoints on the Common External Customs Tariff (CET), which establishes customs duties on imports.
4. Ministers asked the European Commission to abstain from pressures on Nigeria to sign an agreement.
5. Ministers demanded Chief negotiators to continue their efforts for a speedy conclusion of negotiations and the signing of a comprehensive, fair, balanced and mutually benefial EPA, which meets the aspirations of West African countries and their populations for social and economic development.
At the same time President Wade of Senegal continued to pursue his proposal to replace the Economic Partnership Agreements with Development Partnership Agreements (DPAs).
His suggestion was published by the French daily Le Monde on November 16th 2007. It reads i.a.:
"I therefore propose Development Partnership Agreements along the following lines
- dissociation of trade from development aid ( the latter to be co-managed)
- the setting up of a mixed body to facilitate European budgetary investments in
- agreements to be concluded on a regional basis, instead of a global one (such as the WTO), which is too vast and therefore very restrictive;
- agreement between Europe and the African continent as a whole, instead of the split into 5 different sub-regional agreements, as Africa is to be seen as a geographical entity;
- sectoral agreements for specific products such as coffee, cocoa, groundnuts, cotton, fish, mining products and manufactured goods;
- relocation of industrial production to Africa. Since Europe can not compete with India and China, why not set up industries directly on African soil, for goods now being exported to our continent?
- financing infrastructure - if Europe does not want to tackle it, the Chinese will go ahead, at higher speed and lower cost!"
According to President Wade, Development Partnership Agreements would pave the way for fair and mutually profitable development.
In all, Europe and Africa ought to forge a common destiny by laying the foundation for an objective alliance, based on complementarity" he said, suggesting a joint Paris-Dakar initiative to be take by the Governments of France and Senegal.
The declaration of the ECOWAS ministerial meeting of December 17th in Ouagadougou does nowhere refer to a Development Partnership Agreement. Should one conclude that President Wade would let himself be satisfied by a comprehensive, fair, balanced and mutually benefial EPA which lives up to the social and economic development aspiration of the West African countries and their populations? The future will tell.
In conclusion we may state that the ECOWAS is indeed preparing to sign and EPA with the EU, but not just any EPA. Africa is strongly determined to defend its interests. It remains to be seen how the interests of all (that is all countries, including the developing countries, the Least Developed countries and also their various population categories, such as urban consumers and rural producers) may be taken into account. The most urgent matter now is the harmonisation of the External Customs Tariff and the acceptance by all of a new 50% tariff band (which would be in addition to the present four applied by the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa: 0%, 5%, 10% and 20%). This additional 50% tariff band (that is to say a tax levied on some imported products) would send a strong signal to European negotiators and wuld be a clear indication that the ECOWAS is not prepared to sacrifice its interests.
Another just as important task is the specification of "sensitive products", which consists of a list of products to be excluded from the partnership agreements. It must be sufficiently extensive to cover agriculture and emerging industries and make allowances for the development of a food industry commensurate with the enormous potential the ECOWAS holds.
Koudougou, January 14th 2008