The Sixth African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) States Summit has resolved to take a second look at Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union (EU) with a view to making them more inclusive and to foster integration within the Group.
To this end, the Heads of State and Government would engage in high-level consultations on the EPAs with a number of European Union (EU) member states. This formed part of a three-point decision taken at the end of their two-day meeting in Accra on Friday.
They directed the President of the Council and Secretary-General of the Group to explore by the end of October 2008, modalities for conducting the high-level engagement with key stakeholders in the EU.
The Leaders also instructed the Council of Ministers to work on the creation of an ACP Free Trade Area (FTA).
President John Agyekum Kufuor, Current President of ACP, said they wanted the Agreements to reflect a strategic partnership that would be a win-win for all and not one of continued dependence on Europe.
He said the Summit, held under the theme; "Promoting Human Security and Development" took short and long term views of the current global challenges - climate change, soaring crude oil and food prices.
The deliberations, he noted, were going to significantly contribute to the shaping of the destiny of the global village. President Kufuor underscored the need for member countries to continue to interact and maintain their close relations and contacts.
About 2,000 delegates including Heads of State and Government of the 79-member-nation Group attended the Accra Summit. It came off at a critical time of turbulence on the global financial market.
The game being played between the ACP Group and the EU could be likened to a scenario our Elders observed: "Nomaa, nomaa ne asisirape agro yi, agro yi be ye agro pa ni?" - To wit: "Could the game that birds play with flying termites be a fair game?"
For those of you in tropical Africa you might have observed that after the first afternoon rain at the beginning of the rainy season, termites come out in their numbers and as they fly birds prey on them. The way the birds manoeuvre to catch the flying termites is a sight to behold rather than to tell.
Initial Split in the ranks of ACP Group
The ACP and EU game is being played between two unequal partners and it is interesting to observe that Ghana, which had broken ranks with the majority of the members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and together with Cote d'Ivoire signed partial EPAs with EU, was elected the President of the ACP Group.
This scenario caused Mr John Kaputin, Secretary General of ACP, to express regret about the split within the ranks of the Group with respect to the EPA negotiations at the opening session of the Summit.
He said instead of being a unifying factor, the EPA process had split the Group into States that have embraced the full EPAs and others that have doubts about the scope and content of the Agreements.
He said: "Addressing all contentious issues will smooth the way for the successful conclusion of the EPA process and produce an agreement that will be embraced by both sides."
The EU is seeking under the EPAs, a reciprocal trade regime with the ACP Group. This means EU would export its goods to the markets of ACP countries both quota and duty-free and in return would grant ACP countries similar access to EU markets.
Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire in December 2007 broke ranks with other members of the ECOWAS and initialled separate interim EPAs with the EU, pending conclusions of negotiations on the full deal.
Under the interim EPAs, 80 per cent of exports from EU into the developing countries would be on duty-free, tariff-free basis in exchange for 100 per cent market access for developing countries exports to the EU.
Mr Kaputin called on the Heads of State and Government to provide the political guidance and leadership in charting the best way forward taking into account the need to retain the EU as a key development partner.
President Kufuor in his welcoming address demanded that the ACP Group and EU partnership should look for new modalities that would facilitate their respective entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements competitively, profitably and with dignified interdependence.
He said fair international trade systems should be put in place to make the economies of developing nations productive enough to transform the lives and empower their peoples to take advantage of the ever-increasing opportunities to help them to integrate meaningfully into the world and impact positively on their development, adding, "the ACP wants a better life for all its peoples".
President Kufuor noted that human security and development needed to focus especially on the youth, who should be nurtured into the mainstream of globalization with competences and self-confidence, to feel as an equal partner in the market.
He said it was, therefore, unfortunate that donor assistance to complement resources of developing countries for institutional building and human resource development to transform their nations had not been substantial enough.
Another source of concern was that "aid" had tended to be given more as charity than an economic factor for development and for that matter had not been coordinated to make the requisite dent on their problems of poverty, unemployment, high levels of illiteracy and disease.
These shortcomings, he said, combined to incapacitate the developing countries in their efforts to add value to the raw material they produced.
President Kufuor said to be fair, it should be acknowledged that over the past decade the donor community had shown a stirring conscience through the United Nations system, especially the multi-laterals like the World Bank, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Group of Eight Industrialised Nations.
This, he said, could be seen from the promise to give 0.7 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product as Overseas Development Assistance. He, however, described the implementation as "scratchy", so far.
President Kufuor said; "the EPAs divide the solidarity that used to bind the ACP countries together under the pretext of giving regional emphasis to the relationship between the EU and the six ACP Regions".
He said the EPAs were also "threatening to deprive members that do not sign by giving deadlines, which could prove catastrophic to our fragile economies". Apparent Change of Ghana's Stance
This apparent change of stance by Ghana was a pleasant surprise to civil society groups that have been calling on the Leadership of ACP countries to reject the EPAs outright.
They have been arguing that the EPAs as currently structured were set to continue and even carry further the destabilising elements that have rendered the economies of developing countries dependent on aid.
They have been asking the ACP Leadership to take cognisance of the fact that the free market principles on which the EPAs rested, had for the past three decades failed to deliver the promised prosperity.
The civil society groups have also been questioning the intended removal of customs duties now or in the future, saying it would severely weaken the revenue base of governments and destroy the industrial base of ACP countries. Trade Unions oppose EPAs
A coalition of three labour organisations - African Regional Organization of International Trade Union Confederation (AROITUC), Ghana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) and the Ghana Federation of Labour (GFL) also called on the Summit to renounce all interim and comprehensive EPAs and to resolve to negotiate fresh EPAs on 'reciprocal goods only' with the EU.
The call came at a time when some ACP countries had broken ranks and signed separate interim EPAs with the EU, which contravened the original intention for EPAs to be signed between the EU on one hand and regional bodies within the ACP on the other.
Mr Kwesi Adu Amankwah, Secretary-General of AROITUC, told journalists that the EPAs, as they were now, threatened to completely destroy the production base of the ACP countries and also to make it impossible for those countries to realise the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
He explained that the 100 per cent market access for exports of developing countries to the EU was meaningless because those products faced stiff competition from similar heavily subsidised EU-made products, adding that ACP countries had supply constraints and could, therefore, not take full advantage of that offer to the same magnitude that the EU companies would take advantage of the 80 per cent access to ACP markets.
"We, therefore, call on our Heads of State to reclaim the destiny and sovereignty of our countries by taking a collective decision on the EPAs.
"This decision must be two fold - renounce all interim and comprehensive EPAs and resolve to negotiate and agree a non-reciprocal goods only EPAs with the EU," he said.
Mr Amankwah noted that the removal of customs duties on as much as 80 per cent of imports from the EU would deny ACP countries of the most reliable sources of revenue as most ACP countries depended on customs tariffs for half of their locally generated revenues.
He urged Heads of ACP countries to learn a lesson from the ongoing world financial crisis due to the uncontrolled and liberal market activities in the United States of America and to protect their markets from the extreme liberalisation that the EPAs proposed.
He noted that for the past six years since EPA negotiations began, no impact assessment had been done to assess how their implementation would affect the economies of ACP countries and yet the EU insisted that the EPA be signed, notwithstanding.
Mr Amankwah deplored the attitude the European Commission (EC) throughout the EPA negotiations, saying the EC's willingness to abandon the regional negotiations framework and to sign separate interim EPAs with individual countries, was a clear sign that the EC was not interested in the regional integration of ACP States.
"In addition the attempt by the EC to cast all critical voices represented by civil society, particularly on the EPAs, as 'disgruntled', underscored the desperation on the part of the EC and clearly undermines the spirit of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement that calls for the involvement of non-state actors," he said.
He noted that the posture of the EU throughout the EPA negotiations suggested that they knew what was good for ACP countries and that the governments and civil society in ACP countries knew nothing, adding that the EPA also sought to render ACP Governments ineffective by taking away their regulatory powers.
Mr Amankwah said the just-ended ACP Summit provided an opportunity for member States to take a firm and united decision on the EPAs with the view to saving their economies from inimical invasion by the European multi-nationals. Making use of the wisdom of our Elders
"The Nation", newspaper of Barbados, in its 22nd September 2008 edition, reported that Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie foresaw the current "Tom and Jerry" game the EC is playing with the ACP Group - "Tom and Jerry" is a series of theatrical short subjects created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that centre on a never-ending rivalry between a house cat (Tom) and a brown mouse (Jerry), whose chases and battles often involved comic violence.
Emperor Haile Selassie, who had experienced betrayal by Europeans first hand in the League of Nations, in a 1962 speech urged the Heads of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU), to set up a special committee to monitor developments in Western Europe and make recommendations.
He said: "We would suggest that this same Committee simultaneously study the implications and effects, which the European Common Market (now EU) will have on the economies of the African States and on our efforts to work out a coordinated programme of African economic development, and recommend measures designed to minimise the adverse effects of this impact."
Emperor Haile Selassie said: "The European Common Market constitutes both a great challenge and a grave danger to Africa. We have witnessed the remarkable achievements, which the abolition of customs barriers and the coordination of economic development have brought to pass in Western Europe, and we are encouraged to press for the taking of similar steps on our own Continent."
Our Elders say: "Woe betides those who have no Elders," but fortunately the present citizens of ACP countries have Elders, so what remains to be done is to make use of the centuries-old wisdom of our Elders. It would be of a great help in this "Tom and Jerry" game.
A GNA News Feature by Boakye-Dankwa Boadi