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We think West African leaders have a point

Oct 7, 2014, 9:39 AM

Negotiations are ongoing between political and business leaders of West Africa and the European Union (EU) on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which calls for tariff-free access to markets of both blocs.

According to the EPA deal, the European Union would offer the 15 countries of ECOWAS and non-Ecowas state Mauritania full access to the markets of EU-member countries.In return, ECOWAS would gradually open up 75 per cent of its markets of about 300 million consumers to Europe over a 20-year period.

ECOWAS countries in this deal include The Gambia and 14 other members.

The negotiations, which stalled two years ago after countries of ECOWAS resisted lifting tariff barriers over fears they could crush nascent industries unable to cope with European imports, have this month been revived to put matters right.

However, member countries led by Nigeria and Ghana have again stood their ground, saying the agreement is not of much good to ECOWAS members.

Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel and the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria say a flood of imports from Europe, West Africa’s biggest trading partner, could “completely crush what little industry there is in the region.”

We think there are good reasons for ECOWAS to drag its feet on signing this agreement, although the EU has offered a 6.5 billion euro ($8.94 billion) package over the next five years to help ECOWAS shoulder the costs of integrating into the global economy.

The EPA trade is arranged to be done on tariff-free access to each other’s markets, which means there will be no government-imposed tax on imports from both sides.

How strong West African industries and manufacturing companies are to make substantial gain and growth from this deal is what African leaders are still finding very difficult to determine.

Furthermore, while EU manufacturing companies and industries will be flooding the markets of West Africa with their products, the collateral damage to the growth of West African industries and economies will be detrimental to the development of ECOWAS countries.

Since they cannot compete in the light of EU products, in most cases dumping - the export of goods at a price less than their normal value - they would definitely crumble and go out of business.

Such a deal is perceived as more harm than good to ECOWAS countries, as it would kill West African nascent industries, shut down factories, force farmers out of commercial farming, and create massive unemployment and poverty in ECOWAS member countries, as they open up their markets to free trade, at this point in time.

Almost all developed and developing countries in the world today have had to apply some strict trade control and protectionism at some points for their industries to grow and economies develop.

“We need to negotiate an EPA that is beneficial to our sub-region and will contribute to the prosperity of our people,” said Ghana’s President John Mahama at the recent EPA talks.

We cannot say more.

“It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself...”

Eleanor Roosevelt