Ahead of an ECOWAS experts meeting on the Economic Partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), to be held in Accra from 20-22nd of February 2013, there are gloomy clouds on the horizon, firstly about the possible direction that ECOWAS officials' might lead the region and 'betray' their peoples and the sub-region by reversing current negotiating positions and offering even more liberal terms to an intransigent and aggressive European Union; and secondly, about the role that Ghana might play in such an unfortunate turn of events. ECOWAS CSO's have issued a public admonition to the officials about the prospect of such a 'betrayal'
His Excellency, President Mahama himself has had cause to speak caustically about the direction of the EPAs and their dangerous implications for West Africa and Ghana at the 7th summit of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries in December 2012.
Given Ghana's delicate and potentially game-changing position in the West African EPA framework, it is imperative to call on the Government to show consistency of purpose and offer some leadership at this critical juncture in the EPA process.
The Ghanaian President spoke against the EU's imposition of arbitrary and aggressive deadlines on countries like Ghana to sign the EPAs as well as the EU's insistence on far-going, outright liberalization and how these will damage national revenue (through sharp reductions in customs revenue collection); adversely impact entire economies of what are still developing and least developed countries; and undermine regional economic integration such as that pursued by West African states through ECOWAS.
Despite such clear grasp of the fractious and anti-developmental nature of the current EU-driven EPAs, Ghana has continued to equivocate on its own EPA positions in ways that undermine and weaken ECOWAS as a whole. Even the pro-free trade World Bank states that opening of more than 65% of West African markets on equal terms to EU companies and goods will destroy domestic industry.
Yet, in the face of an already struggling Ghanaian industry, barely gasping under the choking weight of unfair competition by imports, and despite the ECOWAS position of 70% market opening in the EPAs, Ghana's go-it-alone interim EPA offers an 80%+ opening to the EU. As long as such as this exists the EU will use it as a benchmark pushing the entire region towards this lower, disastrous threshold.
Such inconsistency is all the more dangerous in the face of the contrasting single-minded aggressiveness of the EU to exploit its political position to gain pole position in certain global markets both to export its way out of its current crisis and to secure its competitiveness for the future.
Thus EU firms based in Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana and across the West and Central African coast have attained monopoly position in so-called 'non-traditional exports' such as bananas, pawpaw, pineapples, agro-processing of cocoa and other products as well as a chunk of the shipping activity and control of key infrastructure such as terminals and ports along that entire stretch of Africa.
These well integrated operations are backed by EU governments and promoted through every available means including Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and so-called 'development aid' flows and conditions. Such advantages are what the EU seeks to lock-in and expand on a virtually permanent and limitless basis through the instrument of the EPAs.
For the EU, this strategy is continuously being developed, evolved and renewed. For instance in 2008 the EU launched its raw material initiatives that seeks to enable Europe gain unimpeded access to raw materials to guarantee proper and sustainable functioning of the EU economy.
Sectors such as construction, chemicals, automotive, aerospace, machinery and equipment sectors which provide a total value added of € 1 324 billion and employment for some 30 million people all depend on access to raw materials and Africa is a fertile ground for both raw materials and market for finished goods.
A year before, in 2007, the EU had launched a new economic strategy based on expanding use of 'free trade agreements' such as the EPAs. It is therefore not strange that the issues expressed in the raw materials initiative find expression in the EPA negotiations.
The European Union had based its assessment and projections for the coming decades on the firm conclusion that its survival depends on access to and control of strategic raw materials, assets and markets across the world hence the growing importance to it of projects such as the EPAs.
With the rise of new competitors on the global scene like China, the need to leverage spheres of interest and markets controlled since colonial times increases even more, and with it, the (as yet) non-violent political warfare for the Continent's (Africa) resources. The warfare will be intensified in the wake of the never-ending financial and economic crises that engulfed the euro-zone since 2008.
The stakes are very high. For us, it is our economy, our development and our livelihoods. But it is also about our governments and their integrity at the national but also the sub-regional level as well.
At the Accra meeting this week ECOWAS (and Ghana's) position on the question of market access will be greatly strengthened if Ghana renounces her unilateral initialed agreement which offers 80 percent market access.
And in the overall review of the negotiations, Ghana can cite her current struggles to regulate the trade of scrap-metals as an industrial resource by advocating the removal of rules in the EPA that prohibit the use of export taxes (which Ghana has used to encourage local processing and use of raw materials) or its currently ever-widening trade deficit (reported this week as $4.2 billion).
His Excellency, the President, John Mahama must not go the route of double-speak, inconsistency previously trodden by some Ghanaian officials and leaders in all successive governments to date, since the EPA negotiations started in 2002. Millions of livelihoods depend on what government does with this trade pact.
***Sylvester Bagooro is Programme officer, Third World Network-Africa; email: [email protected]***