Despite the unpreparedness of West African governments to negotiate the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union, there are clear indications that the EPAs will be signed by the December 31, 2007 deadline, Mr Tetteh Hormeku, Head of Programmes at Third World Network, has said.
Speaking at a forum organized by the Economic Justice Network, a coalition of non-governmental organizations involved in the fight against trade injustice, Mr Hormeku said he did not see any contrary actions on the part of governments in the sub-region, to remain optimistic that the signing would not be concluded by December this year.
"From all indications there is that willingness of our government officials and negotiators to follow religiously the timetable of negotiations set out by the EU and we can all but agree that it will culminate in the signing of the agreement," he said
The EPAs will replace the current non-reciprocal trading arrangement between the EU and the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, which include the countries in West Africa. It is expected to come into effect by January 2008 after the negotiations have been completed by December.
The EU maintains that the EPAs with West African States would enhance trade, boost the development fortunes of the countries and contribute to the meeting of the Millennium Development Goals.
Mr Hormeku said it was very difficult for civil society 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.
"Our Ministers, knowing their weak strength asked for the deadline for finishing the negotiations to be extended for three years to enable them to tackle the basic issues on the ground before entering the negotiations but this was bluntly refused by the EU."
He said the EPA if signed would be costly for the productive sectors of economy and hurt the people of Ghana as local companies would be unable to compete with cheap imports from European companies leading to job losses and lost of revenue for government to undertake its socio-economic development programme.
Besides, the removal of tariffs on European goods under the EPA would result in a devastating loss of revenue and diversion of trade among others.
Mr Mohamed Nashiru Adams, President, Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, said asking the countries in West Africa to open their markets to cheap and subsidized imports from Europe, the EU was simply seeking the demise of these economies through the reciprocal trade regime being sought under the EPA.
Mr Ibrahim Akalbila, Coordinator of the Ghana Livelihood Coalition, said even if the agreement was signed, civil society would lobby Parliaments in the various countries in the sub-region not to ratify the agreement.