By Franklin Alli
Ken Ukaoha is the President of the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) and member of the Nigerian negotiating team on Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). He shared his thoughts with Vanguard on why the country is opposing the implementation of EPA between the European Union (EU) and the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) nations.
EPA is a trade and development agreements negotiated between the European Union (EU) and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations and they are aimed at promoting trade, integration and development between the two groups. Ukaoha explained that under the scheme, developing countries are encouraged to enter into the agreement in regional groupings, rather than individual nations.
“So far, the ACP countries have their six regional groupings involved in the negotiations, ECOWAS being one of them. West Africa is the EU’s largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.
He recalled that on 15th December 2014, the Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), met in Abuja, Nigeria, to discuss political and economic issues facing the region, and as a follow-up to the Accra Summit of July 2014. “Although little was discussed about the contentious EPA, during the summit, many countries later reportedly signed the agreement through the ‘back door’, he said.
According to him, the situation in West Africa followed the official conclusion of lengthy talks between ECOWAS chief negotiators and representatives of the EU, in February 2014, in Brussels. Sequel to this meeting, ECOWAS leaders had mandated the West African chief negotiators to fast track the process of implementing the agreement, which has been marred by controversy for over a decade.
“Despite the signature by about 12 countries so far in West Africa, trade and legal experts insist such endorsement would only be effective if it is ratified by the individual parliaments of the 15-member regional bloc. In addition, there is need for a profound clarity on what and who constitutes the legal signatories to the Agreement.
This is critical especially within the West African region where two regional institutions (ECOWAS and UEMOA) are seen as equal signatories to the agreement on one part; while their membership cut across the same member states that are individual signatories as well,” he stated.
Elaborating on Nigeria’s position, he stated that the final ratification may not happen soon as Nigeria, which has consistently opposed the implementation of the Agreement, has neither signed nor shifted its stance. “There are indications that other West African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia, will not ratify the Agreement if Nigeria rejects it.
“The real dangers of the EPA, if implemented in its current form, are legion and cut across all facets of the economic life of Africa. Nigeria’s main grouse with EPA stems from the fact that it would lead to de-industrialisation, exposure to undue competition, loss of jobs and revenue, capital flight, increase in poverty and in some way, loss of sovereignty and disintegration of the region,” he said.
To buttress his argument, he cited the recent case involving Dominion Farms, an American company—with Canadian interest and the United Kingdom backing—whose proposed 30,000 hectares rice project, has reportedly displaced 4,000 people at Gassol community in Taraba state, north eastern Nigeria.
He said EPA will give the highly subsidized farmers from the EU, the license to grab huge portion of land in Africa, thereby putting local small holder farmers at a disadvantage. He also expressed concerns that foreign farmers are only interested in producing crops that would be converted to biofuels to service their factories, with a view to increasing their productivity an export, and not food crops tht add value to the local people.
The way forward, Ukaoha said, is for African leaders to do what is right and protect theinterest and concerns of their citizens first. “EPA must be renegotiated and I strongly recommend an Africa-wide EPA as a union. This must also take into cognizance the African trade and economic integration efforts at the continental level.”
Notwithstanding the oposition to the EPA, the EU has offered a 6.5billion Euro (about $8.94 billion) package over the next five years (2015-2019) to ECOWAS under the EPA Development Programme. The ultimate objective of the EPA is that ECOWAS would open up 75 percent of its markets, with its 300 million consumers, to Europe over a 20-year period (2000-2020).