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EU optimistic of EPA deal with ECOWAS in coming weeks

The European Commission (EC) is optimistic it will reach an agreement in the coming weeks with ECOWAS on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), the European Union's controversial trade and investment treaty whose negotiation has been dogged by differences over some of its most crucial aspects.
The EU hopes to replace its long-running preferential trade arrangements with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations, which are not compliant with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules with the EPA to replace.
“We are optimistic an agreement will be reached in the coming weeks. Good progress has been made though (but) there are still some challenges,” Dr Nicholas Westcott, Managing Director for Africa, European External Action Service (EEAS) at the EC and a former Ambassador of the UK to Ghana, told journalists in Accra prior .to a meeting to officially invite President John Mahama to the fourth EU- Africa summit taking place in Brussels from April 2-3,2014.
The EU and ACP countries had until the end of' 2007 to sign the EPA, failing which ACP states, including those in ECOWAS, were going to lose their tax-free export access to the EU market.
While many Caribbean states have ratified the EPA, the negotiations between the EU and ECOWAS have been held back by differences over issues such as how much of ECOWAS' market should be liberalised, and the so-called Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause - which requires ECOWAS states to extend to the EU any more favourable treatment they may grant to third-parties in a future trade agreement.
To avoid losing their generous access to the EU market, Ghana, Cote D'Ivoire, and a few other countries signed an interim EPA as they waited for their respective regional blocs to iron-out differences with the EU.
But the European Commission warned as early as 2012 that it will change its market access regulation - which had allowed countries like Ghana which ratified an interim EPA to continue exporting to the EU quota-free and duty-free - and remove preferential access for countries that fail to ratify the EPA by the end of 2013.
The EU is Ghana's largest export market, accounting for more than half of all exports - and loss of the current tax-free access regime will, at least initially, cause the country's exporters to lose competitiveness in the EU market.
If Ghana signs a full EPA, its exports to the European market will be 100 percent exempt from customs and other duties, while exports from the EU to Ghana will enjoy 80 percent exemption from similar duties and levies.
But the deal has never excited civil society organisations in the country, who warn that signing the agreement will lock the Country's economy deeper into its primary commodity dependence-trap and derail regional integration.
On a cost-benefit analysis basis, some critics have even argued that Ghana will be the loser.
According to Osman Mensah, a research consultant, the country could lose. US$88.6 million anually if it signs the EPA - adding the agreement will erode government's revenue from imports, with the country standing to lose US$1.12 billion in import revenue by 2022.

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