The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Hanna Tetteh, has urged all individuals and organisations engaged in the debate on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), including legislators in the sub-region, to approach it on the basis of adequate information and not operate on the foundation of ideology and emotions.
She said very often, because of the colonial experience, some individuals and groups considered anything coming from the West as another form of neo-colonialism and added that that posture was wrong.
Ms Tetteh was speaking at a two-day dialogue among members of the ECOWAS Parliament on border crossing and the global trade framework in Accra yesterday.
The meeting is to discuss how to reduce the challenges associated with the free movement of labour, trade and investment within the ECOWAS sub-region.
The EPA is also expected to engage the attention of the members in the course of the meeting.
Ms Tetteh said the issues with regard to the EPA needed to be interrogated properly to ascertain what West Africa could do, in its relationship with the European Union (EU), to promote West Africa’s interest.
Ms Tetteh’s EPA views
“We constantly talk about the fact that by removing tariffs over a period of 20 years on imports from the EU, we are killing our capacity to industrialise and create a competitive manufacturing sector of our own.
“Without the EU, we are killing ourselves already, any way, with what happens at our borders, with our inability to clear goods on time, to move production in such a way that it will help make our manufacturing competitive.
“When we say that it should be possible for us to operate without an EPA, there should be some compensation mechanism for businesses that are currently exporting to the EU and taking advantage of those preferences and which require the preferences to succeed.
“The question that comes up is, assuming these businesses want to expand their products and businesses, is it fair to ask the taxpayer to subsidies their products and businesses with the EU?
“Anyway, is that the best utilisation of our tax resources at a time when we all know that the challenges that we face in terms of building our infrastructure, being able to promote trade and industrialization among ourselves, being able to build West African industries are seriously limited,” the minister said.
Comments on other issues
Ms Tetteh acknowledged the few achievements of ECOWAS but said more could have been achieved in the 40-year history of the organisation.
She said although the movement of people had been achieved to an extent, the sub-region had failed to progress in many other areas, such as the free movement of goods, especially agricultural produce.
That, she said, was not the way to promote industrialization and achieve economic integration.
Barton-Odro’s opening statements
The First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Ebo Barton-Odro, who opened the meeting, urged the participants to deliberate thoroughly on how to remove the obstacles which militated against the realision of sub-regional aspirations to enhance integration, both economically and socially.
He said the meeting also needed to seriously address the problem of the proliferation of arms and how to secure borders.
The sectarian violence in Nigeria, he said, was also of concern and added that it needed to be seriously addressed and solutions proffered.
Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament
The Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said statistics pointed to the fact that intra-regional trade was low and stood at between six and 11 per cent of total exports of countries in the sub-region.
That, he said, meant that about 90 per cent of the exports from ECOWAS countries went to Europe, Asia and other countries.
That, in his opinion, was unacceptable.
He said information available also pointed to the fact that informal and formal trade in the sub-region suffered numerous bottlenecks, despite ECOWAS statutes on trade liberalisation, central to which were the many challenges associated with border crossing.
Those and many more, he said, were the negative developments which hindered economic development and said the meeting needed to come up with practical solutions to address them.
“In particular, I would suggest that we direct our attention at how we can effectively manage the protocols on free movement and the raging challenge of the trans-border monsters of terrorism and insurgency,” he said.