Government last Thursday urged to put on the negotiating table immediately the enhanced Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+) as an alternative to the Economic Partnership Agreements when the current trade regime expires on December 31, this year.
West Africa Trade Negotiators at a meeting in Abidjan had asked for extension of the World Trade Organisation's waiver but the EU is unwilling to accede to the request.
Instead, the EU has proposed a two stage approach to the EPAs; that is concluding an agreement in the area of market access by the end of November this year, while negotiations on services and other trade related issues such as government procurement should continue till 2008.
Mr Tetteh Hormeku, Head of Programmes of Third World Network, a trade advocacy organisation, said governments in the sub-region ought not be lured by the subtle attempts of the EU to get them sign on to the EPA through the backdoor to the detriment of their future developments.
'What the EU is asking is a modified EPA that when signed by the countries will commit them to signing the other agreements on services and trade related issues which they have consistently refused to negotiate,' he said.
It is in this direction that governments go beyond the request for a waiver to explore other mechanisms, especially the GSP+ that would allow the same access for goods to the European Union market, Mr Hormeku said.
The EU is seeking under the EPAs the opening up of the markets of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries duty and quota free for goods from Europe in exchange for the same treatment to products from the ACP countries.
Mr Hormeku said the EU, realising that the agreement could not be concluded by the close of this year had been putting pressure on counterpart negotiators through disinformation.
'They have been sending delegations to different sectors of the economy to feed them with false information that there would be no access for their goods to the EU market when the agreement is not signed,' he said. 'The EU claim that only the EPAs can guarantee this continued access is totally false', Mr Tetteh Hormeku said.
He said signing onto the EPAs would trigger severe loss of jobs, threaten the peace of the continent and strangle Africa's right to evolve and pursue its own development agenda and lead to re-colonisation of Africa by Europe.
However, the EU maintains that economies of ACP countries had not seen any appreciable improvement despite the over 30 years of market free access granted them. In other words, the relationship that was based on preferences and commodity trade has largely failed to deliver development. Rather, it insists that records show that exports from ACP countries had been on the decline.
Secondly, that the current Cotonou Agreement, which expires at the end of December, is incompatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules that demand equal treatment for all member countries and because the current arrangements heavily favoured ACP countries access to EU markets over other developing countries they will be challenged. There is therefore the need for a trade agreement compatible with WTO rules.
Thirdly, the EU argues that the EPA negotiations will push forward the regional integration agenda by ensuring that countries rationalise and harmonise their regional trade arrangements and in the process strengthen the integration process and the economies.
The EU said it could not extend the existing system and that the only legal alternative to EPA, which was called the Generalised System of Preferences or 'GSP', offered much less generous market access, unless a country was classed as 'Least Developed' by the United Nations - which Ghana is not.
Mr Hormeku said contrary to European Union claims, African countries did not need to sign the EPAs to maintain their current market access levels to the European market.