Accra, Aug. 4, GNA- Vice President Aliu Mahama, on Wednesday urged West African Ministers of Trade, to expedite the process of formulating an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between West Africa and the European Union (EU), to reap the benefits in good time.
Opening a meeting of the Ministers, the Vice President noted: "An EPA with the EU has the potential of giving impetus to and accelerating our integration processes, which we have not been able to complete for almost 30 years."
"This is for the simple reason that the formation of a free trade area and a customs union by ECOWAS, are prerequisites for the conclusion of the EPA with the EU, which we have committed ourselves to achieve by 1 January 2008."
The 15-member ECOWAS Ministers are in Accra to fine-tune the draft final road map for negotiation of the EPA between West Africa and the EU.
The meeting was preceded by that of the West African Trade Experts on Tuesday.
Vice President Mahama, said it was gratifying that the road map for the agreement provided opportunities for capacity building of experts, and stressed the need for the beneficiaries to utilise it, and improve their negotiating skills to enhance the sub-region's competitiveness in global trade.
He, however, expressed concern about lack of capacity by the Sub-region to supply as much goods as its trade partner and tasked the ministers to address the issue fervently.
"Given our weak competitive export supply position, I consider building productive and export capacity to remove supply-side constraints as an indispensable condition, if we are to derive benefits from the EPA," he cautioned.
"If our supply-side constraints are not addressed, our enterprises will find it difficult to realise the benefits from the economies of scale, which production for a large market like the EU allows," he said.
Dr Kofi Konadu Apraku, Chairman of ECOWAS Council of Ministers, pointed out that Africa and West Africa, were the least integrated Region's in the world, with trade between ECOWAS countries constituting a negligible proportion of their trade with the rest of the world of only 10 per cent.
Dr Apraku, who is also Minister of Regional Cooperation and NEPAD, however, said his counterparts, with their experts, were determined to create a single regional market for the free movement of goods of ECOWAS origin.
An ECOWAS Free Trade area is expected to be established in 2005, while a Common External Tariff and Customs Union would be in place by 2007 to push the process forward.
These would be accompanied by the harmonised and standardised policies, among other facilities.
He, therefore, called for immediate action to implement internal indirect tax reforms in the sub-region to facilitate the creation of the Free Trade Area.
Mr Alan Kyerematen, Minister of Trade, Industry and President's Special Initiatives (PSIs), tasked the experts to prioritise the issues on addressing the constraints of supply to ensure that the sub-region would benefit from the partnership.