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November 27, 2007

Ghanaian horticultural sector urges signing of EPA to prevent EU export disruption

Ghanaian fresh produce exporters are urging government to go it alone and sign the interim Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA Light) with the European Union if the Economic Commission of Western African States (ECOWAS) bloc was not ready to do so.

They said that was to avoid disruption to trade in January 2008.

West African trade negotiators at a meeting in Abidjan had asked for extension of the World Trade Organization’s waiver but the EU is unwilling to accede to the request.

Instead, the EU has proposed a two stage approach to the EPAs; that is concluding an agreement in the area of market access by the end of November this year, while negotiations on services and other trade related issues such as government procurement should continue till 2008.

The Sea-Freight Pineapple Exporters of Ghana (SPEG) and the Horticulturists’ Association of Ghana, two leading fresh produce export associations and others, said without the government signing onto the EPA, future trade relations with the EU looked bleak.

Mr Stephen Mintah, General Manager, SPEG said, “Our support for this option is also based on the fact that it includes the opportunity to protect vulnerable domestic industry and products. We understand that the protection of local industry can be achieved through the submission of a list of sensitive products that are protected from immediate liberalization and negotiated market access schedule for the liberalization of the remaining product lines.”

The EU is a principal market for Ghanaian fresh produce exports with earnings ranging between 60 and 80 million dollars every year. It is also a significant market for non-traditional exports in general, taking on average between 50 per cent and 55 per cent.

Mr. Mintah said an estimated 372 million Euros would be lost by the exporting firms in 2008 alone in the event of failure to conclude the negotiations in full or to adopt any other option that could prevent disruptions to trade. In addition, more than 33,000 direct jobs would be lost and hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs and livelihoods would also be put under threat in the industry. Mintah said the uncertainty surrounding the negotiations did not augur well for planning, which was key to success in the fresh produce industry.

Mr. Fred Adongo, Chief Executive of the Federation of the Association of Ghanaian Exporters, said Ghana would not be undermining regional integration when she decided to sign onto the EPA light alone.

Civil society groups, including the Third World Network and the Ghana Trade Union Congress, have asked government to put on the negotiating table the enhanced Generalised System of Preferences (GSP+) rather than sign onto the EPA. They argued that the GSP+ would provide the same market access to exporters to the EU market as the one currently being enjoyed under the Cotonou Agreement.

The EU is seeking under the EPAs the opening up of the markets of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries duty and quota free for goods from Europe in exchange for the same treatment to products from the ACP countries.

The EU said the current Cotonou Agreement under which the Africa, Carribean and Pacific countries had enjoyed preferential treatment, is incompatible with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules that demanded equal treatment for all member countries and there was therefore the need for a trade agreement compatible with WTO rules.

The EU further argued that the EPAs would push forward the regional integration agenda by ensuring that countries rationalized and harmonized their regional trade arrangements and in the process strengthen the integration process and the economies.

The EU also maintained that it could not extend the existing system and that the only legal alternative to EPA, which was called the Generalised System of Preferences or "GSP", offered much less generous market access, unless a country was classed as "Least Developed" by the United Nations - which Ghana is not.

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