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27.11.2007 Business & Finance

Government will not bow to pressure to sign EPAs

Government will not bow to pressure to sign EPAs

Government says it will not bow to any outside pressure to sign onto the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by the December 31 deadline.

The EPAs will replace the current Cotonou Agreement under which the Africa, Carribean and Pacific Countries (ACP) have enjoyed duty and quota free access to the EU market.

Under the proposed deal, ACP countries will be required to open up their markets for about 80 percent of products from the EU in order to continue to enjoy the duty and quota free access to the EU market.

Fresh produce exporters on Monday urged government to go it alone and sign the EPA light, an interim arrangement in the area of market access, with the European Union if the ECOWAS bloc was not ready to do so.

West Africa trade negotiators at a meeting in Abidjan had asked for extension of the World Trade Organization's waiver to enable the region to continue to enjoy the duty and quota free access until the negotiations were concluded.

The produce exporters held that signing the interim deal was important to avoid disruption to trade in January 2008.

In an answer to a question on the government's position on the issue at a forum organized by the Ghanaian-German Economic Association for visiting German trade mission of North Rhine-Westphalia, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, said the government would not be intimidated to sign the agreement.

"No decision has been made yet as to the way to go. We are still talking and believe there are options to explore to avoid disruption to trade come January," he said.

Mr Agyeman-Manu said government was clear in its mind that bilateral agreements would not work well in the interest of regional integration.

"I will be surprised to see any individual country come out of the ECOWAS bloc to sign a bilateral deal with the EU," he said.

However, the EU is unwilling to accede to the request. Instead, it 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.

On the other hand, civil society groups, including the Third World Network and the Ghana Trade Union Congress, have asked government to put on the negotiating table alternative of an enhanced Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+) rather than sign onto the EPA.

They argued that the GSP+ would provide the same market access to exporters to the EU market as the one currently being enjoyed under the Cotonou Agreement.

The EU, however, maintains that there were no options for the waiver because the current regime was incompatible with World Trade Organisation rules, which calls for equal treatment for all members.

The EU said Ghana was not qualified for GSP+ because it was not a least developed country, according to the classification of the United Nations.