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National Stakeholders' Consultation on EPAs, Accra, 13 March 2013 – Recommendations from Trade Unions, CSOs & Private Sector

Source: Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr.
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A national stakeholders consultation was convened in Accra on 13th March, 2013 to review the status of the EPAs with the view to making inputs towards the ECOWAS EPA Ministerial meeting which takes place in Cape Verde from the 18-22nd March 2013; and to enhance engagement and national consensus among stakeholders in national level EPA and trade policy processes, particularly in respect of Ghana's Interim EPA (IEPA) that has provided a stop-gap operational framework for trade with EU since December 2007.

In attendance were representatives of the TUC, the Economic Justice Network (a national economic development advocacy platform for mass civic organizations and CSOs), the Private Enterprise Foundation, Ghana National Chamber of Commerce & Industry, sector representatives of Business associations as well as the Ministry of Trade & Industry (MOTI) and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MOFEP).

The consultation discussed the following concerns and adopted joint recommendations from Ghanaian private sector and CSOs to be conveyed to Ghana's lead negotiators and through them to the Minister of Trade and Industry as part of their brief for the forthcoming Cape Verde ministerial.

1. Ghana IEPA: Ghana's bilateral IEPA is due to be replaced by the completion of an ECOWAS EPA. Stakeholders expressed deep concern that the continuing validation of the Ghana IEPA will lock in the comparatively onerous commitments that Ghana bilaterally initialed as an emergency measure to meet the December 31, 2007. This will have negative long-term effects and deny any flexibilities and additional leeway that the ECOWAS process might afford Ghana, including a roll back from the 80% market opening that Ghana offered the EU, which is considerably over and above the current ECOWAS offer of 70%.

Furthermore, stakeholders expressed the concern that the Ghana IEPA exerted negative pressure on the ECOWAS positions and might weaken the regional position on the EPA because of an understandable, yet mistaken, desire to accommodate Ghana (and Cote d'Ivoire, the other ECOWAS non-LDC that has a bilateral IEPA with the EU).

Stakeholders therefore recommended that:
i) Ghana should not go ahead to finalise and sign its current IEPA.

ii) Ghana should double efforts to improve the ECOWAS EPA so as to effectively roll-back and repair the more stringent terms it undertook in the IEPA, and to re-gain the optimal leeway and flexibilities that the regional agreement can confer.

2. Positions for the Cape Verde EPA Ministerial Meeting: Top of the agenda items for the forthcoming ECOWAS Ministers' Meeting on EPAs include an experts and the ECOWAS Commission proposal to expand the scope of ECOWAS' mandated 70% duty-free quota-free market access offer to the EU to a new threshold of 75% liberalisation; and to reduce the structure of graduated liberalisation to a uniform five years across all categories of goods. Both offers are supposedly predicated on the call for 'flexibility' by ECOWAS Ministers to advance the negotiations, and are proposed as unilateral flexibility on the part of ECOWAS.

The meeting also had a briefing on developments in the finalisation of an ECOWAS Common External Tariff (CET), due for ratification in June 2013 despite further outstanding work and unresolved political and technical problems, including lack of agreement on increasing the ECOWAS levy as a means of generating source funding for compensation of member-states' losses arising from such trade agreements and policy reforms. This also has implications for the development of modalities for the Regional Solidarity Fund for EPA-related adjustment costs and, at national level for Ghana, the EDAIF levy for funding industrial and export promotion.

Stakeholders recommended that:
Ghana must uphold the 70% offer on market access and reject the proposal to expand this. This is because any further liberalization beyond 70% will be extremely damaging for both Ghana and ECOWAS.

Ghana must reject the proposed five-year uniform liberalization as it undercuts any notion of strategic and developmental prioritization and benchmarking by the country. In it stead, Ghana must propose a thorough review of the structure and sequence of liberalization horizons based on clear production capacity & developmental benchmarks rather than arbitrary calendar deadlines.

iii) The meaning and implementation of 'flexibility' should be interpreted as a flexibility demanded of the European Union and to be attained by means of the highest level political dialogue as recommended by ECOWAS Heads of States and promised by the European Commission President at the last AU-EU summit in Lisbon, Portugal. It is on this basis that the experts' interpretation of the Heads of States' call for 'flexibility' to mean further concessions to the EU is unfounded and ultra vires.

Therefore, Ghana must propose a return to the original and true meaning and purpose of ECOWAS Heads of State call for flexibility as a demand for summit-level political dialogue to break the deadlock around contentious issues.

iv) Ghana must support the proposal to extend finalisation of the CET by one year, with implementation to start in 2015.

v) Ghana must provide leadership and push for the operationalisation of the Regional Solidarity Fund agreed by ECOWAS Trade Ministers in November 2011 as a mechanism of collective regional responses to EPA-related adjustment costs, starting with non-LDC, Interim EPA countries such as Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana (and potentially, Nigeria and Cape Verde as well).

vi) These recommendations be adopted as part of the brief and mandate of the Ministry of Trade & Industry for the forthcoming ECOWAS EPA Ministerial Meeting in Cape Verde in March 2013.

3. Framework for Participatory Trade Policy Dialogue in Ghana: Stakeholders noted the regrettable lack of consistency and inclusion of Non-State Actors in Trade Policy information-sharing and decision-making processes, and resolved to:

i) Call on Minister of Trade & Industry & the Ministry to prioritise the rebuilding of a sustainable and institutionalised mechanism for systematic, meaningful, participatory and on-going policy dialogue;

ii) Partner and collaborate in instituting a capacity-building outreach programme for stakeholder sectoral actors and constituencies;

iii) Input into existing channels such as the newly-instituted Quarterly Consultation between domestic Private Sector and the Presidency;

iv) Call on the Ministry to organise a National Trade Policy conference in the shortest possible time, which will address and review domestic & international trade issues, strategy and policy

Accra, 13/03/2013