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11.12.2007 General News

Government asked to maintain stand not to sign EPAs


Civil society organisatons working on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) in Ghana on Monday called on government to stand by its position not to sign the interim partnership agreements even in the face of European Commission's pressure.

They said this was important to avoid the dangerous implications of the so-called interim EPA.

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 per cent of products from the EU in order to continue to enjoy the duty and quota free access to the EU market.

"We are encouraged that the government decided that it was not in the interest of Ghana to sign Interim Agreement proposed by the European Commission," Dr Yao Graham, Coordinator of the Third World Network, told a press conference organised by the civil society organisations under the umbrella of the Economic Justice Network.

The European Commission and the Ghanaian Government were locked up in discussions last week in an attempt to get the latter sign on to the interim agreement.

But the discussions were deadlocked because EC included in its proposal issues on the liberalisation of government procurement, investment rules and capital flows.

"These issues are not in any way related to trade in goods between the EU and Ghana (and other West African countries) and rules on them are not required by the WTO for the purposes of continued duty-free access to the EU markets", Dr. Graham, said.

According to Dr. Graham, even in the area of trade in goods, the EC included in the interim agreement demands, which had not been part of the EPA negotiations.

One such demand was for the government to forever eliminate the use of export taxes, which governments all over the developing world including Ghana, use when necessary to discourage the excessive export of locally produced materials in their raw form, so as to encourage value added processing and export.

While government's refusal to accept such terms are encouraging, civil society organisations caution that the EC's pressure over the deal has not gone away, especially now that the Cote d'Ivoire has signalled 'initial intentions' to sign.

Dr Graham said civil society organisations appreciated the legitimate fears of mainly horticultural exporters, who had so far added to the pressure to sign the EPA-lite.

"But we believe that the needs of this group can be met without endangering all the other vital and wide sectors of domestic producers and exporters, not to talk of other producers and socio-economic stakeholders," he said.

The civil society groups therefore called on government to table immediately the GSP+, which would cover about 97 per cent of the country's exports.