ECOWAS-EU EPA negotiations not stalled – ECOWAS Official

Despite disagreements, the Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the European Union is not stalled, Dr Gbenga Obideyi, Director of Trade of ECOWAS has said.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the ECOWAS Ministerial Monitoring Committee meeting in Accra on Monday, Dr Obideyi said it would be wrong to suggest that the negotiations had stalled.

“Infact, stalling in terms of the years is not an issue, what we are looking for is quality favourable agreement that will foster regional integration. Indeed, the technical committee is working to go in for an agreement that benefits the region and the people,” he said.

“We are not going to sacrifice a good agreement on the altar of time,” he added and cited the example of the World Trade Organisation Doha development round, which is yet to be concluded after several years of negotiations.

The EPAs agreement, which is being negotiated between the EU and ECOWAS, seeks the establishment of a free trade area and elimination of import duties on products coming from member countries in the two trading blocs.

Civil society groups had argued that signing the EPA will mean the removal of tariff barriers, thus depriving West African governments of substantial revenues.

Dr Obideyi said the two parties were working to resolve the divergence issues, saying that many of the differences between the partners had been reduced to about four main issues with the development funding a key one.

He said the position of the Heads of State of ECOWAS was clear on the development funding arrangement, saying the EC Development Fund was a priority and conditionality for signing the EPA and that the experts would not compromise on the position.

The funding arrangement, he said, remained a key point in the negotiation process with the ECOWAS Heads of State seeking a certain threshold of funding which the European Union was yet to give a positive response to.

On the issue of market access, Dr Obideyi said the the two parties were yet to agree on the level of access and that the European Union was seeking more than what the ECOWAS Ministers were ready to offer.

“These are critical thematic areas of the EPA on which we cannot compromise on. Therefore stalling is not there, we are trying to get it right. Agreements are not something that you do on sentiments,” he added.

The experts meeting will provide the Ministers feedback on the level of negotiations since the last meeting in Bamako in May 2010 ahead of the ministerial meeting on Wednesday.

Source: GNA

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