Discussions are still ongoing with Nigeria to sign the West Africa-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) aimed at strengthening inter-African trade, an ECOWAS official has said.
ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Mr Laouali Chaibou, made the fact known at a media workshop on International Trade Agreements for journalists in Abuja .
Chaibou, who was represented by Mr Gbenga Obideyi, Director of Commerce of the commission, said that ECOWAS had agreed that Nigeria should address its concerns on the EPA.
He said “EPA is a negotiation between two unequal partners; that you cannot dispute that in terms of level of development.
“We are deficient in a number of sectors – energy, industrial and infrastructure deficits.
“These are issues that Nigeria raised in the negotiations and part of the reasons the country gave for not yet signing the agreement.
“ECOWAS, as a very responsive commission, agreed that Nigeria should table all the issues and ECOWAS is still discussing with Nigeria and EU.
“And if Nigeria is going to sign, we need to assure them on the issue of industrialisation needs.
“Nigeria has expressed this and ECOWAS has accepted that it should be addressed; so we are looking at it as one of the things Nigeria has expressed reservations about.”
He also said that Nigeria expressed reservations on the 6.5 billion euros made available by EU to support development in the West African region over a five-year period.
He said: ``In the EPA texts, there is the aspect called EPA development component or development dimensions.
“Among others, is the provision of some amount of money, 6.5 billion euros, to address some of our deficits, particularly infrastructure, industry and the like.
“Again, it is one of the areas Nigeria expressed reservation, that there are 16 countries involved in the EPA negotiations and EU gave such amount of money.
“Nigeria expressed dissatisfaction with the volume of the amount; again, the EU and the ECOWAS are looking at that to see what can be done.”
Chaibou recalled that negotiations on the EPA started in 2003 and the agreement was aimed at “promoting the progressive and harmonious integration of West African states into the global economy”.
He added that the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government endorsed the EPA in 2014 and opened it up for signing by member states.
“Currently all 28 EU member states and 13 ECOWAS member states have signed the agreement.”
He said that Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire had ratified the agreement while Nigeria, The Gambia and Mauritania were yet to sign.
The commissioner, however, explained that provisions of the EPA allowed for the review of the agreements every five years should parties involved have any misgivings with the agreement.
While addressing newsmen, the Deputy Head of EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Mr Richard Young, reiterated that the EPA had provisions that protected the West African market.
``The key element is a trade agreement in goods between the EU and ECOWAS.
“Three key features of the EPA – it opens up the EU market to duty free, quota free access of goods from West Africa
“The second key feature is that it has a protection of the West African market to goods coming from the EU.
“The third element is that should anything go wrong, there are possibilities of safeguard measures to react.
“So what we have is a trade agreement that opens up to Europe, that protects the market in West Africa to enable competition and that has safeguard measures should anything go wrong,” he said.
Young said that the protection provided that 25 per cent of all goods from the EU would never have duty free access to the ECOWAS region.
He further said that there would be a relaxation in the tariff exercised on European goods which would progressively reduce within five and 20 years after the implementation of the EPA.
The two-day workshop on International Trade Agreements for journalists is expected to build the capacity of the Nigerian media to better understand and disseminate factual information on International Trade Agreements.