The Economic Partnership Agreement, EPA continues to cause controversy and division among African regional block groupings. After the recent criticism of the European agreement by African trade experts in Johannesburg, African governments are beginning to speak up and demand for fairer trade deals.
Namibia is the current African country to demand publicly that Europe stop its ‘bully’ trade negotiations, saying it will only sign any (EPA) agreement with Europe if new wordings are introduced and the contentious issues resolved.
Earlier this week, Namibian Industry Minister, Hage Geingob, spoke against the disparity in the trade agreement, saying: “The EU says that they cannot change the texts because it’s too much work to prepare new translations. That’s really a lame excuse, instead of consulting us, they informed us that there was a date for signing – May 7. That’s not how you deal with partners. We might be small, but we are still a sovereign state. You cannot smoke cigars in boardrooms in Brussels and bulldoze us.”
The EPA Trade agreement is not only imposed on African governments but will join these regions’ economies and give Europe’s big business a monopoly, which experts say it is anti-development. But the EU wants to renegotiate after its criticism by both the UN institutions and African experts and that’s why it has introduced the interim trade agreements, which means it could strike an interim agreement with groupings such SADAC, ECOWAS or EAST African trade group.
The interim agreement, however, is still causing trouble and tearing the groupings apart. While some African countries agree to the interim deal, others still find it worrying. “We met in Gaborone last week to rescue the unity in SADC and agreed that those that want to sign can go ahead. Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique will sign. The ANSA-countries (Angola, Namibia and South Africa) equally get space to iron out some issues with the EU,” said Hage Geingob, the Namibian Industry minister.
In West Africa for example, the deadline date of June 30, for all parties to agree on a uniform negotiations is becoming unrealistic. At an Abuja meeting last month, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) commission’s president, Mohammed Ibn Chambers warns that West Africa would feel the pain if they fail to agree on a common regional agreement.
“Without concluding an EPA [Economic Partnership Agreement], our region will have different trade agreements with the European Union that will adversely affect our regional integration process. So we need indeed to conclude a regional agreement to avoid having different agreements because of the differential rate of development in our region,” Chambas said.
The Gambia with a population of 1.5million has already said EPA will affect its country’s financial stability. Because most of its revenues are generated from imports of foreign goods, EPA’s reciprocity principle will mean The Gambia will eventually have nothing to gain since it is not an exporting nation.
Lamin Dampha, a senior economist at the Ministry of trade said: “The Gambia will not be able to take advantage of the opportunity because of the absence of a strong productive sector.” The implications of any present EPA agreement will have a far-reaching effect on its economy, echoed Dampha.
Nigeria which is an exporting state has however made its position known. Any agreement will mean equal partners and equal market deal. “It is pertinent to recall why the EPA negotiations are still going on 18 months after it should have been concluded in December 2007. It is so because this has been a negotiation between two unequal partners, the EU on one hand and the ACP countries on the other,” said Nigeria trade minister, Achike Udenwa.
With the rest of West Africa finding trouble understanding the contents of the Europe’s agreement, Ghana and Ivory Coast have no problems signing an interim agreement.
Since 2007, the EPA has been a contentious issue but there seem to be a common voice among many African countries, that the European Union allows improved equal access to its markets.
Last week, between May 28 and 29, the ACP-EC council of ministers met in Brussels and agreed to changing certain financing modalities under the Cotonou Agreement1 in order to facilitate lending of the European Investment Bank to heavily indebted poor countries from the ACP group. “There was an open exchange of views to assess the state of the ongoing negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the ACP States and the EC. Important developments are expected in the following months,” stated the EU.