Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations between West Africa and the European Union (EU) are in a limbo due to differences over market access, the regional grouping ECOWAS said on Tuesday.
ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade and Industry, 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 dont believe we are ready to go 80 per cent right now,"
Mr. Daramy told reporters on the sidelines at a meeting of ECOWAS Trade and Industry experts in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan.
"Until these points are cleared, I dont see any time-frame for signing an EPA agreement," he said.
Representing Ghana at the Abidjan meeting is Mr. Johnson Adasi, Director of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SME), Ministry of Trade and Industry, who 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 promote growth of the regional economy.
ECOWAS is negotiating as a sub-group of the larger Africa, Caribbean and Pacific grouping to create a mutually beneficial liberalised trade zone between member countries and the European Union.
However, the negotiations have persistently dragged with several postponements, compelling Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, the world's leading cocoa producers, to sign interim agreements with the EU to enable them continue shipment of their commodities abroad.
Mr. Daramy said ECOWAS could give "at most" 70 per cent of its market under the terms and in return would demand commitment of the EU to support EPA development programmes.
"We believe we need to increase local processing to add value to our goods -- we dont want our factories to be closed and create unemployment and social instability."
"I must reiterate that confining West African countries to the production of primary commodities amount to condemning them to remain locked in the commodity trap," he said.
Mr. Daramy said the persistent delays in reaching a deal would not push ECOWAS to take a decision that would only serve a short term interest of the Region, adding that the bloc was pursuing other options including trade deals with China, India and Brazil under south-south cooperation.
"West Africa is not negotiating for time -- we are concerned with reducing poverty and development of our people -- we'll negotiate for the next 20 years if that is how long it will take to get our concerns addressed," he said.
Mr. Daramy said that ECOWAS was in the "driver's seat" and that it would only seek the good of its people anywhere it can get it, he said.
He said an ECOWAS-China business forum would be held in Abidjan soon as part of an international trade fair to boost trade between the two sides.
Mr. Daramy 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 five 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.
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