The Economic Justice Network, a grouping of civil society organisations working for trade justice, has called on government not to bow to pressure being mounted by the European Union for it to finalise and ratify the Interim Economic Partnership Agreements.
Ghana signed a separate IEPA with the European Union in December 2007 to end uncertainty and to protect a very small group of exporters who depend almost exclusively on the EU market as their products would have attracted additional tariffs upon expiration of the non-reciprocal trade regime.
The Network, therefore asked all well-meaning Ghanaians to mount a concerted efforts on government to ensure that the advances of the EU did not destroy the livelihoods of Ghanaians.
Mr Sylvester Bagoro of Third World Network-Africa said it was important that Ghana maintained her integrity and would not break ranks with ECOWAS at this stage of the negotiations.
He said it would be in the interest of the country to pursue the option of the establishment of the solidarity fund to compensate Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Cape Verde on export losses in case regional consensus on EPA was not reached by January 1, 2014.
“I cannot understand this rush by Ghana threatening to sign the IEPAs instead of the region-wide mechanism in the form of the solidarity fund,” he said.
Under the current regime, goods from Ghana, mostly raw materials, enter the EU market duty- free.
By 2014, Ghana might trade with the EU under a new trade regime called the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) should the ECOWAS regional negotiation process delays.
Goods under such a trade regime will attract duties as low as 2% and as high as about 20% depending on the product as they enter the EU market.
However, Mr Bagoro said going back to trade under the Standard GSP scheme would still ensure that about 70 percent of Ghanaian exports entered the EU market duty free.
“Exports of cocoa beans, hardwood lumber, gold and diamonds would be unaffected by changes in tariffs. However, for example, leading exports of tuna would face tariff increases of between 18% and 20%, fruit and vegetables exports (2-8%), and cocoa butter and paste (4-6%),” he said.
Mr Bagoro said the option of the solidarity fund, agreed by the ECOWAS Ministers in Accra, could help Ghana avoid the disruption of exports as well as all the damaging clauses in the interim EPA with its far-reaching effects on the development of Ghana and the regional integration process within ECOWAS.
He said the liberalization of trade being sought by the EU with ECOWAS meant that 80% of goods from the EU would come to the region tariff-free with serious implications for revenue generation.
“Such huge imports can destroy local producers and it appears the EU does not care,” he said.
Mr Edward Kareweh, Deputy General Secretary General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) of the TUC, said the position of ECOWAS in the EPA negotiations seemed worsened due to the divisions sown by the EU.
“The stage of EPA negotiations now is where ECOWAS is divided into three groups – Nigeria (GSP), Least Develop Countries (EBA) and Ghana and Ivory Coast (IEPA/EPAs),” he said.
However, Kareweh said the negotiations could be salvaged in favour of ECOWAS when the people of the region and countries at large with the strategic intervention of CSOs and Trade Unions intervene to get the process back on track.
Mr Gyekye Tanoh, Head of Economic Unit, TWN, said Ghana’s continuous use of IEPA, was a threat to re-positioning of the national economy and to regional integration in the Economic Community of West African States bloc.
He said there were strong signals that Ghana would finalise and ratify its IEPA as a substantive bilateral agreement just as Cote d’Ivoire.
EPAs are reciprocal trade arrangement that the EU is seeking to forge with African, Carribean and Pacific countries in place of the preferential regime under the Cotonou Agreement, which allows the countries tariff and duty free exports to the EU.