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Business News Wed, 30 Sep 2009

EPA negotiations in limbo

Abidjan, Sept. 30, GNA - The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations between West Africa and the European Union are in a limbo due to differences over market access, the regional grouping ECOWAS said on Tuesday.

ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Alhaji Mohammed Daramy, said a meeting between ECOWAS and the EU last week in Brussels did not make any progress due to the unresolved issues of market access, adding that an agreement scheduled for signing at the end of next month, "might not happen".

"They just want to give 80 per cent market opening, but based on our technical analysis, we don't believe we're ready to go 80 per cent right now," Alhaji Daramy told reporters on the sidelines at a meeting of ECOWAS trade and industry experts in the Ivorian city of Abidjan. He said ECOWAS had proposed 63 per cent market access but would be willing to go up to 70 per cent "at most" in return for a firm commitment by the EU to support EPA-related projects, mainly processing of primary products for value addition. "Until these points are cleared, I don't see any time-frame for signing an EPA agreement," he said, adding that ECOWAS would not rush to sign any deal that would not serve the interest of the region. "West Africa is not negotiating for time -- all we are saying is to add value to our primary resources in order to create employment for our people -- we are in the driver's seat now and we must make sure we move towards the desired direction of growth," he said, adding that ECOWAS' position remained unchanged even if it would take 20 years for the partners to agree.

Ghana's representative to the Abidjan meeting is Mr Johnson Adasi, Director of SME, Ministry of Trade and Industry, who also co-chaired the working sessions.

The experts are expected to finalise a common industrial policy which seeks to address challenges facing the various member countries and to promote growth of the regional economy. Negotiations between the ECOWAS grouping and the EU have dragged with several postponements compelling Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, the world's leading cocoa producers, to sign interim agreements to enable them continue shipment of their commodities to Europe. Alhaji Daramy said ECOWAS was pursuing alternative trade deals, mainly with China, India and Brazil under south-south cooperation. "We have options and we have already begun pursuing those south-south trade initiatives with China and Brazil for our mutual benefits; the response has been encouraging," he said, and announced that ECOWAS would be hosting a business forum with China as part of a regional trade fair slated for Cote d'Ivoire next year. He reiterated that mutually beneficial trade and value addition were necessary for West Africa to become less independent on aid and achieve rapid growth.

The World Bank has projected a slower growth of 3.7 per cent in 2009 for the 15-nation ECOWAS region, down from an average 5 per cent in the past eight years, as a result of spill over effects of the global financial meltdown.

The region, with a population of 275.7 million, is mainly primary producer of the world commodities including more than 40 per cent of world cocoa production.
Source: GNA