By Owei Lakemfa
THE new Head of European Union, EU, Delegation to Nigeria, Mr. Ketil Iversen Karlsen was at the State House, Abuja on April 5, to present his Letter of Credence to President Muhammadu Buhari. His main message was that the Economic Partnership Agreement, EPA, between the EU and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, was designed to accommodate and protect economies that would find it difficult to compete. He told President Buhari: “We are hopeful that there will be a signature on the agreement.’’ He was referring to Nigeria’s refusal since 2000, to sign the agreement with the Europeans.
It is worthy to note that former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan were not convinced by the EU’s sugarcoated tongue and had despite tremendous pressures, refused to sign. President Buhari was also not going to break faith with the Nigerian and African people. He pointedly told the super envoy that Nigeria will not sign the agreement because there is the need to protect its economy, especially the industries and small businesses which currently provide jobs for majority Nigerians. He also stated that the agreement would expose Nigerian indust ries and small businesses to external pressures and competitions, which could lead to factory closures and job losses. Additionally, he said, Nigerian industries currently, cannot compete with the more efficient and highly technologically-driven industries in Europe.
One should add that the EPA which would open our markets to unfair competition from Europe, would despite the EU’s promises, turn Nigeria into a dumping ground. Some may argue that it is a free market, and that we should compete with European companies. But fielding a six-year old child in a 100-metre race against Hussein Bolt cannot be called a ‘competition’. Like former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa said in relation to the EU and Africa, putting a heavyweight boxer in the same ring as a featherweight cannot be said to be ‘fair competition.’ He had pointed out that the sharp inequalities of the international economic system which weighs heavily in favour of the Europeans, does not allow for a level playing field and that what this calls for is differential treatment for developing countries, not competition.
Both African leaders are quite right. Let us take the agriculture sector for instance. Since 1962, the Europeans have put in place, the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, which they say, is designed “to improve agricultural productivity so that consumers have a stable supply of affordable food (and) to ensure that EU farmers can make a reasonable living.” To achieve this, it heavily subsidies European farmers to compensate for ‘falling incomes, a depleted workforce and an influx of goods from foreign markets.’ On the average, the EU spends 40 per cent of its budget on these subsidies. In 2015, British farmers alone were paid 13 billion Euros as subsidy. Yet, the EU insists that Africa cannot subsidise its farmers because subsidies are bad and violate the World Trade Organisation rules. So in an open competition, African agriculture and farmers would be no match for the Europeans. Under the EPA, Nigerian farmers and pastoralists will simply be crowded out of the market and the people will become far poorer than they are now.
The EPA negotiation process itself is unfair; while the 28 European countries negotiate as a single entity or bloc, the EU sliced Africa into five different negotiation partners; Central Africa, East and Central Africa, the East African Community, the Southern African Development Community, SADEC, and ECOWAS. Sometimes, the EU bloc picks on individual countries to sign. This was what it did to Ghana and Cote d’Voire who were forced into signing “Interim “ agreements. It has been more brutal with some regions and countries. Sir Ronald Sanders, former Antigua and Barbuda High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and former ambassador to the World Trade Organisation who likened the EPA to a case between sharks and sardines, narrated the experience of his country: “My own country, Antigua and Barbuda, is a small twin-island country of only 170 square miles with a permanent population of about 90,000 people. In October 2008, despite our small size, we individually signed the CARIFORUM EPA with the collective EU-28.” To understand that what happened between the EU and Antigua is a rape, we would need to appreciate that in comparison to the tiny underdeveloped country, the EU is 28 countries, 1,707,642 square miles with a population is 511.81 and a GDP of US$18.526 trillion.
Nigeria realises that if it signs the EPA, it will become a dumping ground, its banks, companies and services will be unable to compete with European ones and that its industries will be denied the public patronage that helped European companies to develop.
Back in 2016, in order to entice Nigeria to sign the EPA, the then Ambassador/Head of EU delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Michel Arrion told Nigerians to quickly sign the EPA as the EU and the 28 member-states have agreed to give a minimum of 6.5 billion euros for every five years as “development assistance.” But this was rebuffed. In fact, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, statistics that showed that if tariff is removed as provided under the EPA, Nigeria alone will lose an estimated $1.3 trillion. It said if Nigeria signed the EPA: “companies which have already started investing in production of raw materials and intermediate products would be forced to close down. Nigeria will perpetually continue to be exporters of unprocessed raw materials and importers of processed goods. Nigeria would then become an extension of EU market.”
The EU is desperate to get Nigeria’s signature on its EPA agreement because without Nigeria, EPA in West Africa will be ‘Brought In Dead’ (BID). Apart from being the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria which hosts the ECOWAS Secretariat, is also the West African economic power house. The ECOWAS Secretariat statistics reveal that: “The main active countries in trade are Nigeria, which alone accounts for approximately 76 per cent of total trade followed by Ghana (9.2 per cent) and Côte d’Ivoire (8.64 per cent). The trade surplus of the region…is attributable to Nigeria ($58.4 billion) and Côte d’Ivoire ($3.4 billion) when all other countries have a deficit in the trade balance.”
As former Central Bank Governor, Charles Soludo argued, the EPA is a re-enactment of the 1984-85 Berlin Conference, where 14 European countries balkanized and parcelled out Africa as colonies. The only difference, he said, is that this new agreement “will be signed by free people, under supposedly democratic regimes, and in contexts where the African people again have neither voice nor choice.” It is better Nigeria champions African partnership, trade and integration.