EU trade ‘guarantees free access of Gambian goods’

Monday, November 27, 2017

The EU ambassador to The Gambia has argued that The Gambia signing and ratifying the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) deal simply guarantees duty free, quota free, access to the EU market for all Gambian products.

In a rejoinder to a 23rd October publication in The Point, the envoy further argued that the liberalisation of Gambian market to EU products provides affordable and good quality inputs to local producers, increasing the export competitiveness on the Gambian side.

“It is important to highlight that the sensitive products which are key for the development of Gambia will not be subject to liberalisation. In addition, flexible rules for west African products to qualify for the EU access, called ‘rules of origin’, will allow Gambian companies to easily source inputs from elsewhere without losing their free access to the EU,” the envoy argued.

He noted that the scheme offers new industrialisation opportunities and incentives for The Gambia to invest in productive activities.

As a trade and development agreement negotiated between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, EPA has the partners engaged in regional economic integration processes.

They are World Trade Organisation (WTO) - compatible agreements that go beyond conventional free-trade agreements, focusing on African development, EU experts have said, arguing it takes account of the socio-economic circumstances, including co-operation and assistance, to help ACP countries benefit from the agreements.

While EPA opens up EU markets fully, it also allows African countries long transition periods to open up partially to EU imports, providing protection for sensitive sectors.

In the context of West Africa, the EU’s EPA seeks to establish a free trade area between Europe and West Africa (ECOWAS + Mauritania), through the gradual removal of trade restrictions between the two trade partners.

Through this, it is intended to foster the smooth and gradual integration of West African states into the world economy, with due regard for their political choices and development priorities, the EU has argued.

EPA negotiations were officially launched at an all-ACP level on the 27th September 2002.  In the West African region, the negotiations between EU and West Africa took off on 4 August 2004 following the launch of the Accra Road Map.

However, The Gambia remains one of the few countries in the ECOWAS bloc that did not sign or ratify the agreement under Jammeh. According to the ex-president, Gambia will never be a party to the EPA with the EU as it is “designed to continue the same exploitation and impoverishment of the African continent.”

“The EPA is meant to accompany West Africa in its development path,” Ambassador Lajos maintained. “In the EPA, a development chapter reaffirms the commitment of the EU to accompany this endeavour through development aid linked to trade, industry, energy and transport infrastructure for The Gambia and west Africa,” he added.

With the change of government, the EU ambassador said the Ministry of Trade confirmed that the process for The Gambia to be part of EPA has begun in earnest.

“The Gambia has suffered for too long from being isolated within ECOWAS and with the rest of the world. The new Gambia cannot afford, for its economic development, another decade of isolation,” Ambassador Lajos argued, in a rejoinder sent to The Point last week.

“By committing to regional policies and being a proactive international partner, The Gambia is building bridges which will benefit all Gambians now and in the future. Challenges are wide, and I would like to confirm that the EU will continue to stand as a partner for The Gambia, be it on the political, trade or development fronts,” he assured.

I would like to react to an article which was published in the Newspaper “the Point” on Tuesday 24th October 2017 with the head line: “Intra-ECOWAS trade should be first priority, not signing EPA” quoting an official from the UN Economic Commission for Africa. I would like to correct some mis-perceptions expressed in that article, especially when it comes to the Economic Partnership Agreement between West Africa and the European Union. I believe that Gambian citizens deserve to be well informed about an agreement which will have important and positive repercussions on their economic well-being.

The article suggests that ECOWAS countries should set priorities for their export destinations giving a higher priority to intra trade exports against exports to the EU. In my view both exports should be promoted on the same footing as long as they create sustainable development and provide jobs. It is important to underline that the EPA is not in competition with the ECOWAS integration process. On the contrary, this agreement has been negotiated and discussed in partnership with all ECOWAS stakeholders (government, businesses and civil society) to complement and strengthen the regional integration process. The EPA is a full part of ECOWAS Common Trade Policy with a view to also promote the setting up of an ECOWAS integrated market [1]. In this context Gambia has a very strong competitive advantage with its port, internal river and roads connecting the ECOWAS hinterland with external markets.

Secondly the EPA is meant to help ECOWAS countries and notably Gambia to produce and export value-added goods and develop their industrial capacities. To be very concrete this agreement will support the already existing key export sectors of the Gambian economy such as groundnuts, fishing, horticulture, sesame and cashew nuts which are already regularly exported to the EU market. In the future, the agreement will also give sufficient predictability to attract foreign investors and mobilise local investors in the Gambia to invest in productive activities. In this respect the example of Madagascar [2], a least developed country like The Gambia, is very relevant. Since the entry into force of the EPA in this country in 2012, Malagasy exports to the EU increased by 65%. In 2015, textiles and apparel were its main exports and worth more than 300 million euro (350 million USD) accounting for almost one third of Madagascar’s total exports to the EU.

The mechanism to explain this success is simple: the EPA guarantees duty free quota free access to the EU market for all Gambian products, while on Gambian side the liberalisation of its market to EU products provides affordable and good quality inputs to local producers increasing their exports competitiveness. It is important to highlight that the sensitive products which are key for the development of Gambia will not be subject to liberalisation. In addition flexible rules for West African product to qualify for the EU access, called “rules of origin”, will allow Gambian companies to easily source inputs from elsewhere without losing their free access to the EU. All this offers new industrialisation opportunities and incentives to invest in productive activities.

It is also wrong to say that Europe “will send to ECOWAS all products from soft drinks to rice, to cassava.” First of all, Europe does not export rice and cassava – European exports are mostly constituted of machinery, spare parts, components, and inputs such as fertilisers which will contribute to the industrialisation of the country. In that sense EU-Gambia trade is complementary. Secondly the EPA has been negotiated in a way to reduce any risk of a possible negative impact for West Africa. Indeed, the main objective of the EPA is to support, not to undermine, the economic development and industrialisation of West Africa. The EPA contains numerous measures and safeguards allowing African partners to protect their industrial development and infant industries.

 The EPA is meant to accompany West Africa in its development path. Bold policy reforms and substantial investments will have to be taken and enforced by ECOWAS and Gambia to address the current obstacles to trade and industrialisation. In the EPA, a development chapter reaffirms the commitment of the EU to accompany this endeavour through development aid linked to trade, industry, energy and transport infrastructure for Gambia and West Africa. 

To conclude, I would like to underline the key reason why Gambians should, in my humble view, support the EPA. The Gambia has suffered for too long from being isolated within ECOWAS and with the rest of the world. The new Gambia cannot afford, for its economic development, another decade of isolation. By committing to regional policies and being a proactive international partner, The Gambia is building bridges which will benefit all Gambians now and in the future. Challenges are wide, and I would like to confirm that the EU will continue to stand as a partner for The Gambia, be it on the political, trade or development fronts.

By Attila Lajos, EU Ambassador to Gambia

Author: Sanna Camara
Source: Picture: Attila Lajos, EU Ambassador to Gambia