The European Union (EU) has earmarked 6.5 billion Euros grant over a five-year cycle for the implementation of Economic Partnership Agreement Development Programme (EPADP) for the participating West African countries.
The EPADP is aimed at supporting diversification and increase production capacity, trade related assistance, infrastructure essential to trade development, institutional reforms such as tax reforms among others.
Mr. Kolawole A. Sofola, Principal Programme Officer-Multinational Trade, ECOWAS Commission who disclosed this at a media workshop on International Trade Agreements held in Abuja, Nigeria said the funds would be used to support key and critical areas such as energy sector, infrastructure among others of member states.
This, he said, would enable member countries to gain grounds or to produce a more level playing field so that West African countries could also compete effectively.
The workshop organised by the ECOWAS Commission in collaboration with GIZ of German, the development co-operation was aimed at updating the media on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and other trade related issues.
He said the EPADP also provided the EU, its member states and all development partners a common platform for the coordination of their assistance to the WA region within the framework of the EPA.
Mr. Sofola said the fear that the EPA would collapse member countries’ manufacturing sectors was misplaced but rather pointed out that the West African market would only be opened to the EU in phases over a period of 20 years with policies put in place that would protect infant industries in the region.
Mr. Felix Kwakye, ECOWAS Commission in a presentation said the EPA signed by some African countries excluded agricultural products such as meat and meat products, fish and fish products, dairy products, rice and flour among others from the liberalisation from the EPA.
He said enough safeguards have been included in the EPA to ensure the protection of infant industries.
Mr. Richard Young, Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation in Nigeria and ECOWAS, speaking earlier at the opening ceremony said the EPA would also deepen inter-regional trade among countries in the sub-region.
He said the EPA would engage in the gradual removal of duties over a period of 20 years on 75 per cent of imports from the EU into West Africa while West African countries would benefit from a duty-free-quota-free access to the EU for all imports.
He said the EU was working with the ECOWAS Commission to help foster effective trade activities within the region.
Mr. Laouali Chaibou, ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade, Customs, Free Movement and Tourism, said the commission remained committed to building West Africa’s capacity on trade policy formulation and negotiation of international trade agreements in order to ensure that West Africa can benefit from the opportunities of the international trading system.
He said EPADP component of the EPA was very important as it would build the structures needed for member states to trade effectively.
Dr. Gbenga Obideyi, ECOWAS Director of Trade, said with the effective structures in ECOWAS, the region had been able to negotiate a balanced trade agreement that would be beneficial to all.
He assured that the EPA, would improve intra-regional trade, and had also incorporated multilateral and bilateral safeguard measures as well as anti-dumping and countervailing measures.
Negotiations for the EPA were concluded in 2014 with the view of succeeding the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) of 2000.
The principal goal of the EPA is to promote the progressive and harmonious integration of West African states into the global economy.
So far all 28 EU countries have signed the agreement while 13 West African states have signed with the exception of Nigeria, The Gambia and Mauritania.
By David Adadevoh