European Commission (EC) Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, met with the West African chief negotiator in the ongoing Economic Partnership Agreements in a bid to iron-out the relationship and at the same time expressing concern over the sky-rocketing food price around the world.
Mandelson’s spokesperson, Peter Power, said Thursday: “They discussed the state of play in the Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations between the EU and West Africa and responses to the recent rise in world food prices.”
West Africa has initialed the agreement, save for Nigeria, which is now faced with higher tariffs that have impacted negatively on its small farmers. EAP is a set of trade arrangements, aimed at trying to increase trade between the 76 Africa, Caribbean and Pacific developing countries. It also seeks to allow goods from the developing world to enter the European market quota, duty free, with some amount of reciprocity and, ultimately, encouraging the creation of jobs to fish out the developing world from poverty. The arrangement replaces the Contonou Agreement which came to an end by the end of last year and is also World Trade Organisation (WTO) compliant.
In a statement released after the meeting between Soumila Cisse, European Trade Commissioner Mandelson said, “The President (Cisse) of the Commission of the West Africa Economic and Monetary Union and I are both pleased that work on our Economic Partnership Agreement is now proceeding well and we are committed to maintaining a highly constructive atmosphere and to keeping up the current momentum.”
“On food prices, we agreed on the need for investment in agricultural capacity in West Africa and access to markets for African farmers.
“West Africa has one of the world’s highest levels of unused farm capacity. In the long run, the region can benefit from greater global food demand and open farm trade. Our new Economic Partnership Agreement will remove all tariffs and all quotas for all farm exports from West Africa to Europe,” a statement released from Mandelson’s office in Brussels said.
The move comes after the EU has initialed the agreement with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Central and East Africa and some key trading partners in the Pacific. But the regions have to press ahead with the negotiations with a view to signing and ratifying the deal before the end of the year.
From July 1, 2008, the EU will embark on a transition towards the full agreement by liberalizing the market related to sugar and rice.
“Liberalisation in ACP countries is gradual, taking place over many years. Where trade is liberalized at once or in the short term, tariffs for the products in question are in many cases already set at 0 percent. For example, in the EAC (East Africa countries) 64 percent of trade already enters at 0 percent tariff and this is the focus of early liberalization,” the statement said.
The EU has also made commitment that it protects the infant industries in the ACP countries and will exclude sensitive products from liberalization.
“The whole process will be backed up by considerable packages of development assistance. ACP countries will receive a package of 23 billion Euros in the development assistance over the next seven years,” the statement added.