Accra, June 21, GNA " A World Trade Organisation waiver is the only means through which Africa-Caribbean and Pacific countries can avoid signing onto the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union by the December 31 deadline, Mr Alan Kyerematen, Minister of Trade and Industry, said on Wednesday.
Briefing African journalists on multilateral trading systems, Mr Kyerematen said without a waiver and a clear alternative trading arrangement to replace the current regime, the EPAs negotiations could stall.
Unless we do that, then we will run into a deadlock by the end of this year without a waiver and without an alternative trading arrangement which will exist
between the EU and the ACP countries, he told journalists attending Reuters Foundation training course in Accra. The Minister added that time was running out in view of the short period left for the countries to go on with the road map. With the EPAs, ACP countries are migrating to a new reciprocal trading regime, which means they now have to offer the same concessions to the EU in terms of market access when the agreement comes into effect by January 2008.
The EU has promised development aid and unrestricted access of ACP countries goods to its market.
But civil society advocacy groups such as Oxfam and Third World Network have said that the deal could be costly to the economies of the countries because local industries would be unable to compete with the cheap and subsidized goods from Europe. Besides, the removal of tariffs on European goods under the EPA would result in a devastating loss of revenue while the ACP countries would be unable to export enough to meet the shortfall in taxes because of low production.
The ECOWAS Ministers have also requested the extension of the deadline by three years to enable them to address the supply side constraints, which have made it impossible for most ACP countries to export to the EU.
Admitting that most ACP countries were not ready for the EPAs, Mr Kyerematen said with the current difficulties in getting a waiver at the WTO, the solution to the problems did not lie, either in the insistence of the EU on the ACP countries to sign, or the ACP countries refusing to do so.
Whatever, you do need to have a trading system that is compatible to WTO. Both the EU and ACP countries must get real on how to deal with the issues. Unless you trade you cannot survive as a nation, he said. The Minister said the real challenge was the EU winning over the trust of the ACP countries that it would deliver on the promises and pledges being made in the agreement.
It has become a question of credibility and confidence, Kyerematen said.
There was also a call for increased intra-African trade and the ability of the countries on the continent to negotiate as a bloc to take advantage of the wider opportunity within the framework of WTO. 21 June 07