African agreement on free trade agreement with EU stalls

Out-Law News | 02 Apr 2014 | 2:52 pm | 1 min. read

Sixteen West African countries have been unable to agree on the terms on which they would negotiate a free trade agreement with the European Union, ahead of an EU-African summit in Brussels.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has now set itself a two-month deadline to finalise the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) to trade with Europe, after Nigeria expressed concerns over technical issues, Reuters has reported.

Under the free trade deal the EU would give the 15 members of ECOWAS and non-member state Mauritania immediate full access to its markets. In return, ECOWAS would gradually open up 75% of its markets to Europe over a 20-year period. This would give Europe increased access to the 300 million consumers who live in the 16 African states. Under the deal, the EU has agreed to give ECOWAS a €6.5 billion package over the next five years to help ECOWAS meet the costs of integrating into the global economy.

The two parties have been negotiating a deal for almost ten years, but talks stalled two years ago amid concerns by some African states that eliminating tariffs on European imports could damage their developing industries. However negotiations recommenced two years ago, after ECOWAS agreed to align their strategy with ECOWAS members such as Ghana and Ivory Coast, which both have EU free trade deals, according to Reuters.

Regional leaders were due to finalise the deal at a summit in Ivory Coast in recent days, ahead of the summit of African and EU leaders in Brussels, which is due to start on 2 April. Although the countries agreed a deal in principle, Nigeria expressed concerns about how the deal would impact on its industrial sector if it drops tariffs on certain EU products, according to Reuters.

Ghana President John Mahama, who took the bloc's rotating chairmanship at the two-day summit, said: "We need to negotiate an EPA that is beneficial to our sub-region and will contribute to the prosperity of our people. We can only do that united as a sub-region."

ECOWAS includes members Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Niger and Togo.

A number of ECOWAS countries already have full access to EU markets due to their low-income status. However Ivory Coast and Ghana currently hold only interim bi-lateral agreements with the European trading block, the market for most of their exports, including most of the world's cocoa. Reuters said that both countries are keen for ECOWAS to secure the deal, to foster increased integration with Europe in the region.

An EU official told Reuters: "We have to analyse the way forward now, and they have to look at what they want.There are solutions. This is now a political choice."

The fourth EU-Africa summit will take place in Brussels this week.