Civil society groups argue that the Economic Partnership Agreement of the European Union would harm the economies of member countries, worsen the terms of trade due to unbridled liberalization that was being sought under the arrangement.
However, the European Commission said the EPA to be negotiated with West African States would enhance trade, boost the development fortunes of the countries and contribute to the meeting of the millennium development goals.
The agreement, which negotiation is to be completed by December and expected to come into effect by January 2008, would replace the current non-reciprocal trading arrangement between the EU and the African Caribbean and Pacific countries, which include the countries in West Africa.
At a meeting with stakeholders in Accra for the European Union to present the progress being made in the negotiations, civil society groups said they found it very difficult to understand the insistence of the EU to go on with the negotiations when it was apparently clear that the countries in the sub-region were not prepared for it.
They argued that the opening of the markets of countries within the sub-region to competition from goods from the EU under the reciprocal arrangement being sought under the EPA was a sure bet to the demise of the economies.
Mr Tetteh Hormeku of the Third World Network argued that it was wrong for the EU to go along with the negotiations when ECOWAS Ministers had clearly indicated that they needed about three years to conclude arrangements before starting with the negotiations.
He questioned the subtle manner in which the EU was trying to smuggle into the negotiations the 'Singapore issues' that related to government procurement, investment and trade in services, which the countries had clearly refused to negotiate under the World Trade Organisations.
Mr Hormeku said the EU was only cutting corners to get what they would be unable to secure under the WTO platform.
Mr Victus Azeem of the Integrated Social Development Centre questioned the rationale for the EU to support the capacity building of the ECOWAS negotiators if it had clearly no interest to protect.
He maintained that it had become fashionable for developed partners to introduce various programmes, no matter their seemingly negative impact under the guise of helping in the development of the countries.
Mr Tony Oteng-Gyasi was not happy about EU plans to set up a fund to compensate for the revenues that the countries would lose through a reduction in their tariffs.
He argued that the proposition was sacrificing trade which was essential for the countries development to aid.
Mr Claude Maerten, Head of Unit at the European Commission said the concerns of the civil society groups did not reflect the actual situations that the EPAs seek to do.
He maintained that the EPAs were necessary to integrate the West African countries into the global economy after several years of preferential treatment under the Cotonou accord had failed to make the desired impact.
He said the EPAs are so designed to meet the poverty reduction goals, achieve regional integration and promote trade because of the removal of non-tariff barriers through better communication and simplifying rules for exporters.
Mr Maerten emphasized that it was important the ECOWAS countries make use of the opportunities that the new trade relationship would bring along to correct distortions in the economy.