President J.A. Kufuor has criticised the partnership agreements between African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the European Union (EU), saying the agreements have the potential to undermine regional integration efforts and split the ranks of ACP countries.
What was even more disturbing, he said, was that World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements which could have given fairer trading systems to ACP member countries continued to be frustrated by the resistance of developed countries to the removal of subsidies on their agricultural produce, thereby compromising the very basis of fair trade.
Opening the sixth ACP Summit in Accra yesterday, President Kufuor called on ACP countries and the ED to take a second look at the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) and make them mutually beneficial to the two regional entities.
President Kufuor was speaking shortly after assuming the Presidency of the ACP Summit.
The four-day summit, which is being attended by representatives of all the 79-member countries of the ACP, is on the theme, "Promoting Human Security and Development.”
The participants are expected to discuss, among other issues, human security and development, the mid-term review of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), energy climate change and rising food prices and their impact on the development of ACP states.
Ghana signed the light form of the EPAs with the EU on December 13, 2007 to give the country some time to allow for more discussions with the EU on concerns over the agreements.
Under the light EPAs, Ghana will allow 80 per cent of goods from the EU duty-free and quota-free over a 15-year period, while it will have a 100 per cent free access to the EU market.
Ghana had to sign the light EPAs to prevent serious trade losses at the time when its trade arrangement with the EU under the Cotonou Agreement was expected to expire on December 31, 2007.
Similarly, other ACP countries have signed separate EPAs with the EU.
"Embarrassingly, some of our members have been caught, on the one hand, between the non-fulfilment of the Doha Round of Talks, which would have created a fairer trading system, and the resort to trading arrangements such as the EPAs with the EU, on the other, which tend to undermine our regional integration efforts," President Kufuor told the participants at the summit.
"The EPAs divide the solidarity that used to bind ACP countries together under the pretext of giving regional emphasis to the relationship between the EU and the six ACP regions. They also threaten to deprive members who do not sign by giving deadlines which could prove catastrophic to our fragile economies," he added.
Commenting on the theme of the summit, President Kufuor said human security and development should focus especially on the youth who should be nurtured into the mainstream of globalisation with competence and self confidence.
He, therefore, charged the participants to deliberate on education, health care, communications and such other matters that impacted on the orientation of people and societies for a balanced outlook.
That, he said, demanded that the economies of member states be strong enough to support such social forces and, in turn, fair international trade systems should be worked out to support such economies.
"Unfortunately, this is not so. It becomes clearer every day that many ACP states are left to assume the responsibility of guaranteeing the security and well-being of their citizens and the development of their nations largely by themselves," he said.
"Donor assistance has not been substantial enough to complement our resources for institutional building and human resource development for transforming our nations. Aid has tended to be given more as charity than an economic factor for development," he added.
The President of The Sudan, Mr Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir, who presided over the fifth ACP Summit in Khartoum in 2006, bemoaned the fact that power politics had been allowed to dominate international relations and developing countries had been subjected to aggression by powerful nations.
He said the looming cold war in the horizon was likely to affect international relations, arguing that the inequitable nature of the world economic order could perpetrate imbalances.
President al-Bashir was of the view that no economic partnership could be achieved without reforming the international trading system and called for a collaborative effort towards a more mutually rewarding global trading arrangement.
Briefing the participants on the situation in The Sudan and efforts being made to resolve the Darfur crisis, President al-Bashir said at a time when strenuous efforts were under way to ensure peace in the Darfur region, the International Criminal Court sought to blame him for the crisis in that region.
He said any request for a warrant against him could undermine the comprehensive peace arrangement in The Sudan and would send wrong signals to the stakeholders in the Darfur conflict.
He said it was unfortunate that an international institution could be used to pursue a political agenda and underscored his commitment to the peace process in Sudan's Darfur region.
The Secretary-General of the ACP, Sir John Kaputin, advised ACP states to pay their contributions promptly to encourage "1e smooth operations and functioning of the ACP Secretariat.
He said the ACP was needed now more than ever before in the face of the challenges confronting the globe.