Saturday, April 5, 2014

EPA signing by ECOWAS appears imminent

Following the conclusion of the 4th EU - Africa Summit in Brussels, it appears that one of the two consequential hold-outs, Ghana, will join the ECOWAS consensus to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).   The last major hold-out, Nigeria, is still studying, what is referred to as some "technical issues" before joining the consensus.

The idiosyncratic Gambian dictator's recent objections to the entire EPA negotiation process that started over a decade ago is being seen by his ECOWAS colleagues as grand-standing after he lost out in his bid for the chairmanship of the regional body.  "He missed his chance" said an official "to make a difference in the negotiations that started over ten years ago when Jammeh was the only head of State, among the current ECOWAS Heads of States, who was there from the start of the negotiations."  Jammeh did nothing then, the official seemed to be saying, to change the trajectory of the negotiations along the lines he was suggesting after he left Yamoussoukro.

The Ghana Minister of State, in announcing that his country was ready to sign the EPA, suggested that it will to costly not to sign because the EPA is tied to "aid, technical assistance, political assistance and trade."  This new development did not come easy for Ghana because of the debate that followed the initialing the interim EPA with the EU in 2007.  Critics of the EPA believe that it is skewed in favor of the European Union because it calls for 100% access when ECOWAS was offering between 60% to 75%.

The EPA involves the removal or reduction of import duties of European manufactured goods.  Europe, in turn, will remove quotas, duties on African exports to the EU.

When Nigeria succeeded in convincing the Yamoussoukro Summit to delay the signing of the EPA in the Ivorian political capital, the West African Heads of State focus shifted to Brussels this week with bilateral talks with their European counterparts.  The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, may have succeeded in convincing Ghana to come on board.  It is interesting that immediately following the bilateral talks which took place at the margins of the Brussels Summit, Germany announced that President Mahama of Ghana and current Chairman of ECOWAS has been invited to an official visit to Berlin.  That leaves Nigeria as the major hold-out to still study some "technical issues".

In announcing Ghana's readiness to sign the EPA, the Minister responsible for Public Private Partnership was reported to have said in a resigned fashion during a radio interview that Ghana was ready to sign.  There appears to be no viable alternative available for Ghana and the rest of the ECOWAS Membership, according to the Ghanaian Minister.  The signs of inevitability appears to be surfacing across the region, with the last hold-out, Nigeria, joining the consensus well before signing deadline.  Gambia has little choice to join the fold regardless of what Yaya Jammeh says.