EPA: By signing with Cote d’Ivoire, the European Union is putting West African integration at risk

Published: 10 December 2007

The European Commission risks undermining the fragile economic integration process in West Africa, by signing bilateral agreements with some countries, Oxfam International deplored today. The European Commission has today signed a “staged agreement” with Cote d’Ivoire, and continues at the same time to propose a similar agreement to Ghana. By signing these bilateral agreements, the European Commission is going against the main aim sought by the joint EU-ECOWAS road map, agreed by all parties in Accra in 2004, which was to “strengthen regional integration to benefit development.” It also runs the risk of destroying an economic community which is trying to build itself up in one of the poorest regions in the world.

The European Commission risks undermining the fragile economic integration process in West Africa, by signing bilateral agreements with some countries, Oxfam International deplored today. The European Commission has today signed a “staged agreement” with Cote d’Ivoire, and continues at the same time to propose a similar agreement to Ghana.

By signing these bilateral agreements, the European Commission is going against the main aim sought by the joint EU-ECOWAS road map, agreed by all parties in Accra in 2004, which was to “strengthen regional integration to benefit development.” It also runs the risk of destroying an economic community which is trying to build itself up in one of the poorest regions in the world.

Cote d’Ivoire’s decision to sign this agreement can be explained by its fear of seeing its agricultural produce, particularly bananas, being subject to a steep tariff rise on the European market, after 31st December. The banana industry represents close to 50,000 direct jobs in Cote d’Ivoire. But contrary to indications from the European Union, the signing of an interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) would not sustainably settle the issue of access for bananas to the European market which is regulated by an independent Protocol signed between the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

“The arguments put forward by the European Union to put pressure on Cote d’Ivoire do not add up. The registering by the General Council of the WTO of the request for an extension of the waiver would have been enough to maintain the preferences of the Cotonou Agreement and offer the region the necessary time to complete the discussions. For bananas, for which the protocol is contested at the WTO, it is much more a problem of competitivity in terms of production than the need for a new arrangement. At this stage of the talks between the EU and West Africa, the issue of EPAs has become political,” declared Ablasse Ouedraogo, Special Adviser to the ECOWAS Executive Secretary.

In response to the position clearly expressed by the ECOWAS member states and its current president Blaise Compaoré, to not sign economic partnership agreements in 2007, the European Commission has changed tactics. Over recent weeks, the EU has dispatched high level missions to Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire with the aim of conducting a divisive policy within the Community.

“This unwarranted pressure does not cover the European Commission in glory. It clearly shows that the European Union does not believe in the partnership it talks about and that there is a wide gap between what it says and what it does. Furthermore, this agreement with Cote d’Ivoire, if it were signed, would go against the legal and regulatory measures set out in the treaty of the West African Economic and Monetary Union. In time this agreement risks endangering this Union and then ECOWAS,” affirmed Samba Gueye, of the network of West African farmers’ organizations (ROPPA).

As the Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade recently reiterated, the signing of these agreements will have negative economic and social impacts for many ECOWAS countries, and particularly for the poorest producers. Above all, it risks undermining regional integration, the only way for these poorest countries to sustainably emerge from under the yoke of poverty in a context of globalized economies marked by the emergency of powerful regional groups.

“It is ironic that on the eve of the Lisbon summit which is meant to promote partnership, the European Union is seeking to divide African countries. This divisive policy is in contradiction to the idea of partnership which Europe is trying to sell in Lisbon,” declared Eric Hazard of Oxfam International.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Ismaila DIENG, Oxfam GB (Dakar), Tel: +221 77 639 41 78
Eric Hazard, Oxfam International (Dakar), Tel: +221 77 450 80 78