The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has made it clear that it is looking for partnership and development-centred agreements with the European Union and not one that will stifle and ruin their economies.
Speaking to journalists on Tuesday evening at the Informal dialogue between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries in Bonn, the Nigerian Minister for Commerce, Dr Aliyu Modibbo Umar, one of the representatives of the ECOWAS region, confirmed reports that the West African sub-region had asked for a three-year extension of the negotiations because “certain things are not clear to us”.
The informal dialogue is at the instance of the German government who is determined to push the ACP-EU negotiations on trade in order to reach an agreement with ACP countries by December 31, 2007.
The EU-ACP dialogue took place on the sides of another informal EU Development Ministers meeting to set an agenda for a bigger and formal EU Ministerial meeting, which would also take major decisions on the EPAs with ACP countries.
A comprehensive ACP-EU joint review meeting of the negotiating process is expected to come off in May this year.
The meeting was therefore, to give politicians the chance to meet the technical team - those doing the real negotiators on behalf of the policies - so as to understand the frustrations and issues drawing the agreements back.
Dr Umar said the negotiations had to take place in a more transparent and proper way than the present hanky panky game being played with issues being shrouded in secrecy, adding that the EU must allow for sector studies to be conducted and civil society involved the more.
On investments, he did not mince words on the fact that ECOWAS countries would not just open their markets to Europeans for invasion and that the three-year extension was to allow rough edges in the negotiations to be straightened.
At a press conference to close the meetings, the German Minister of Economic Co-operation and Development, Ms Heidelmarie Wieczorek-Zeul, noted that both sides had exhibited a lot of commitment and the political will, necessary to move the negotiations forward.
“All ACP countries have shown the commitment to the negotiations. We are going to hold a series of high level meetings to discuss further some of the issues,” she stated.
On the issue of incorporating agreements on trade in investment and services in the EPAs, Ms Wieczorek-Zeul said it was not a question of inclusion, rather investment in energy, infrastructure and human resource was crucial and indispensable for Africa to develop, grow its economy and create jobs.
“We have talked about the need to increase development aid and I have approved of it. But we also need investment for economic development and growth to create jobs. This calls for financial interventions such as microfinance for the poor in Africa to have an economic turnaround,” she stressed.
She announced that the EU would make microfinance available to African countries through the World Bank and added that besides these, private investments in sustainable and renewable energy sources and infrastructure were important for Africa.
The two-day forum was organised by the Federal Republic of Germany as part of programmes lined up in connection with its Presidency of the EU and the G8.
Story by Samuel Doe Ablordeppey