Senegalese Minister for Commerce Mamadou Diop has warned that African governments will continue to be pushed around by the European Union and its allies if they continue to adopt an individualistic approach to negotiating for fair trade deals.
Speaking at a forum organized by the Africa Trade Network (ATN) in collaboration with Stop EPA Advocacy, Mr. Diop said he was at a loss why African governments cannot speak with a common voice when negotiating with the EU on bilateral trade agreements and policies that have a direct impact on their citizens.
The forum which discussed the negative impact of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) on developing economies also highlighted the inconsistencies in the EPA and the colossal damage it could have on the economies of most developing nations, especially Africans.
Speaking through an interpreter Mr. Diop stated that: “For example we go to Brussels and we have over eighty African ministers who are individually holding sessions with the EU on the same thing, how can we make meaningful progress with such attitude?”
The Senegalese minister said bad policies that continue to create distortions in the economy of many African countries would have been avoided if the countries went to negotiate with a common front.
The EU is now pushing for African governments to sign the EPA and Mr. Diop believes this offers a great opportunity for African governments to collectively register their disagreement over some of clauses within the document framework.
Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire have already broken the front somewhat by signing on to the EPA because of threats from the EU that they risk heavy tariffs on their exports. Senegal has not signed up and according to Mamadou Diop it is because the Compact is not in favour of Senegal's small economy.
He explained that the current stalemate on the EPA presents an opportunity for ECOWAS as a regional body to assert itself and ensure that trade agreements among member states are effectively executed. He said regional conflicts have derailed the organisation's objective of facilitating trade among member states.
Mr. Diop mentioned that African governments need to do their homework well if they are serious about alleviating poverty among their people.
South African Deputy Trade Minister Rob Davies also contended that it is the European Union's own personal interest that has swamped the entire process of the so-called agreements they want to pursue. Dr. Davies said the legal clauses inherent in the EPA agreement will not augur well for most developing economies.
Third World Network Official Gyekye Tanoh who moderated the programme said the position of those opposed to the EPA has not changed. He said it's not only Civil Society Organisations that are opposed to the EPA but governments who think their economies will collapse once they sign on to it.
He noted that that Civil Society Organisations would like to engage governments who have signed up to the EPA and those yet to sign to look at ways of resisting the policy. Mr. Tanoh said one of the negative aspect of the policy is the attempt to push government to introduce policy reforms in the inform sector of the economy. The sector, he explained, has been the lifeline for most people and any attempt to put stumbling blocks through heavy taxation will worsen the plight of most people.
Emily Jones of Oxfam, Great Britain, said the process of development will be negatively affected if the deal is allowed to go ahead.
Officials from the EU who were present at the forum argued that the EPA package has been misunderstood. Liselotte Lsahsson of the European Commission Department in Brussels said the EPA is intended to boost trade and enhance the capacity of African economies. He mentioned that the organisation's doors are still open for those not clear about the policy to come, sit and talk.
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