There has been widespread expression of public reservation within the ECOWAS community regarding the prospects for the signing of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union. Trade, which has long been the benchmark of Africa’s growth and development agenda from yesteryears, has taken a nosedive due to the poor handling by many African leaders of trade policies and treaties.
One proposed arrangement that has drawn a lot of criticism across the West African community is the recent apparent conclusion of negotiations in Accra for the signing of the EPA with the European Union. Many in the sub-region consider that the negatives of the EPA outweigh the potential gains. Questions have been asked whether West African negotiators were successful seeking the best interest of the sub-region or they were outsmarted by their European counterparts at the negotiation table?
Or is it that the sub-region had not been appropriately educated on the need for this partnership agreement hence the widespread apprehension. Many would ask why the European Union would propose a trade agreement in which they will gain more from Africa’s rich but underutilized resources in a covert manner?.
In the midst of all these is the appointment of Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, the former Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Telecommunication Organization ( CTO), as Trade & Industry minister by President John Dramani Mahama, who doubles as the Chairman of ECOWAS and under whose leadership ECOWAS signed the EPA. If we consider the uninspiring effects of previous economic agreements, such as the various Lome trade agreements, the Structural Adjustment Program, or even NEPAD, it is needless to say that, any failures of the EPA will lie squarely on the shoulders of the current Chairman of ECOWAS who had his previous Trade Minister and current Foreign Minister take instrumental lead in gaining the commitment of other West African leaders to the EPA agreement. This is not to conceal the fact that the initial signatory to the start of negotiations for this partnership agreement was done by John Agyekum Kuffour in 2004 together with his Ivorian counterpart.
The widespread reservations expressed across the West African sub-region on the signing of the agreement has made it critical and germane for ECOWAS to identify the most knowledgeable experts of our sub-region to undertake any final negotiations for what would be in the best interest of ECOWAS in revisiting and re-negotiating the pacts in the agreement. It comes therefore as no surprise that the Chairman Of ECOWAS has chosen to appoint the experienced and astute diplomat Dr. Ekwow Spio Garbrah to this very strategic position that will enhance the chances of West Africa gaining more from the trade agreement.
Having worked at the World Bank , the African Development Bank and as CEO of the Commonwealth Telecommunication Organization, Dr. Ekwow Spio- Garbrah has the wealth of knowledge and expertise in multilateral negotiations to offer ECOWAS additional fire-power on behalf of the sub-region. .
It is also hoped that Dr Spio-Garbrah’s experiences in the private sector, academia and as a diplomat and politician will give him the edge in playing a leading role amongst African negotiators in ensuring that Ghana and ECOWAS get the best package from this Economic Partnership Agreement.Should Dr Spio-Garbrah succeed, this will only further reinforce the influence and reputation of Prez John Dramani Mahama and Ghana in the sub-region as the Chair of ECOWAS.
However, Spio Garbrah must be mindful that for the EU to be putting pressure on African leaders to sign this trade agreement must mean that they have something under their sleeves. Spio-Garbrah should therefore prioritize fairness and transparency in the provisions of the the agreement. In line with Article 24 of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, it is argued that the wide ranging implications of this agreement is that Ghana and West Africa will have to abandon the lofty ideas of industrialization, domestication, self reliance and genuine economic prosperity since the Europeans, in the name of trade liberalization, will promote the exports to West Africa of cow legs, eggs, turkey, chicken and copy books thereby crippling the indigenous productive capacity of local industries.
Dr. Ekwow Spio Garbrah must also note that the overall success of the Mahama leadership as ECOWAS chairman depends on his Mahama’s ingenuity and ability to take charge of the hope of the over 260 million people that make up the ECOWAS community and the future generations that will be affected by this agreement.
Opponents of EPA continue to argue that the open and huge EU market makes it unfavorable for West Africa to make desirable gains, hence the factories and industries of Ghana will struggle leading to job losses.
Spio Garbrah should study carefully the current pacts which reportedly allows the EU access to 75 percent of the ECOWAS market over two decades. He needs to question whether the deal could potentially harm some of Ghana’s industries, should certain EU products be granted tariff-free entry into our market. Spio Garbrah should also examine with his expertise if the pledge of €6.5 billion contribution to an EPA-focused development programme for West Africa over the 2015-2019 period, along with providing West Africa full access to its market is sufficient to bring about the economic boom that Ghana and West Africa needs at present.
As some West African countries continue to express their reservations to the agreement, Spio Garbrah still has an opportunity to salvage the fortunes of the sub-region by proposing a review of the deal to bring ECOWAS access to the EU to at least the 60 percent that West Africa initially proposed. My hope is that, Nigeria, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and many other ECOWAS countries will support him.
Mr. incoming Trade and Industry minister, it is over to you, the challenges look overwhelming, but having followed you closely throughout your professional career in politics, Ambassador, Education Minister, Minister of Communications, Minister of Mines & Energy, Senior Advisor to African Development Bank Group, University President, Church CEO, and CEO at CTO of the Commonwealth of Nations, NDC Vice-Chairman, Board Member of several international bodies and agencies, I join many Ghanaians in believing in your renowned expertise and competence to make a case for Ghana and West Africa in your capacity as Trade & Industry minister. I salute Prez Mahama on your appointment. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
Dr. Francis Ouatarra ( Sydney, Australia)
Born to Ghanaian and Burkinabe parents, the writer is a Trade Liberalization expert who has researched extensively in Trade policies and treaties in Africa.