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John Mahama and the Destiny of ECOWAS - COMMENTARY


President John Dramani Mahama is the 24th chairman of the ECOWAS. The regional grouping elected him on its 44th session to become the third Ghanaian president after Jerry John Rawlings (1994-1996) and John Agyekum Kufuor (2003-2005). Speaking to Daily Graphic Sebastian Syme [3], via telephone from Cote d' Ivoire, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration- Ms Hannah Tetteh, was quoted to have said on Saturday, 29 March 2014, that President Mahama would be faced with the challenge to manage the ECOWAS integration agenda, including returning stability to Mali. But the minister explained that the president was ready for the task. Boko Haram had little contemplation then.

On the signing of the highly-flagged EPA, Ms Tetteh is reported to have stated that the Heads of State and Governments had in principle approved the agreement. But Nigeria had some specific concerns and on that score, a committee had been set up by the Heads of State and Governments, made up of Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d' Ivore and Senegal, to look at the technical issues and report back to the Heads of State in two months. So Prez Mahama holds the economic destiny of ECOWAS. How does he manage it?

On 30 September 2011 the European Commission, put forward a proposal to cease by 2014 those trade preferences extended since January 2008 via the Market Access Regulation, in the continued absence of, at least, ratified interim EPAs. Dick Toornstra[4], predicted that this initiative, intended to speed up EPA negotiations, is almost certain to rekindle interest in these agreements during 2012 and 2013. “More and more parliaments in Africa and the Pacific, as well as the European Parliament, will be confronted with ratification procedures. For these reasons, upon the depletion of original stocks of this reader (originally published in September 2011), the OPPD decided not only to reprint it, but to enhance it with a new chapter (4.8) to reflect these developments and to update other parts as required.” At the time of going to press, Prez John Mahama-led ECOWAS, faces stiff internal opposition for the EPA’s final ratification, amidst not only the said threat to regional sovereignty but also, annihilation of fragile local industries.

The European Union (EU) [5] defines Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) basically as trade agreements, within a multi-layer development strategy vis-à-vis African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries which also include extensive funding (European Development Fund) and other initiatives aimed at fighting poverty and underdevelopment. So it is analysed in the context of the overall EU development policy and the evolving global trade regime. But per EU, “EPAs as in Ghana have been criticised by many stakeholders both in the EU and in the ACP countries and they are often depicted as an instrument of economic penetration of the EU in Africa and the sincerity of their development goals questioned.” For most Ghanaians or those of African origins, the EPAs appear not only as neocolonial economic overreach but also geo-political strategy, designed to lure the African into colonial servitude.

Notwithstanding, on 16 April 2013, the European Parliament tempered its earlier final touchline of the beginning of 2016; by pushing forward the signing deadline, to 01 October 2014. This is raising many eyebrows particularly, in Ghana where not only homemade products are being propagated but also the Defence Industry, in Kumase, is about to be self-serving in the production of footwear and to the larger extent, generosity to other security outfits and needy school kids, thereby, breaking the traditional norm of relying on either the defence industries in the Great Britain or the Communist China. It is found [6] that EPAs are legally binding bilateral contracts between the EU and individual African countries which once signed, warrants that within a decade (10 years), about 80% of that country’s market should open to European goods and services, haunts. Although it is said that various African countries have managed to exclude a number of subsidized agricultural products and sensitive industries from the negative elements of EPA stipulated market liberalization, much remain unresolved, hence the cold feet-dragging.

But are the EPAs as bad as we think? According to the EU[4], it is important to keep in mind that EPA negotiations were launched by the EU in agreement with the ACP governments, and for two essential reasons: The trade regime adopted in the Lomé Conventions (and the subsequent Cotonou Agreement) gave non-reciprocal, preferential market access to the ACP countries but discriminated against other developing countries which did not enjoy the same preferential treatment and therefore had to pay higher custom duties for their products exported to the EU. Accordingly, it was argued that the ACP preferential trade regime was in breach of the existing rules governing international trade and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) requested that it be repealed and replaced with a WTO-consistent one.

However, Steve McDonald, Stephen Lande, and Dennis Matanda[6], argue that since the current EU approach, ostensibly, doesn’t fully consider how EPAs impact issues of global importance such as Africa’s regional integration, these negotiations can be deemed fatally flawed. “The arbitrary deadlines set are, first off, much too premature; and especially expose individual sub Saharan African countries much too susceptible to demands from third countries like those in Asia and the Americas for the kind of reciprocity afforded European suppliers. Therefore, if Africa is going to ameliorate the negative impact of EPAs, the AU must respectfully insist that deadlines, such as the October 1, 2014 one, be postponed, allowing for various prerequisites that will enable an equitable negotiated conclusion since the region will be a collective like the EU.” The bid being waged for arm-tied Africa is that this ample time and leeway should also allow the AU Members to develop consensus between themselves and all major trading partners on how best to integrate Africa into global supply chains and distribution networks.

But to paraphrase the words of Nana Akomea[7]- a former New Patriotic Party (NPP) Parliamentary and a communicator, who describes ECOWAS as useless for its inability to exploit the advantages of the open market it enjoyed from the EU to expand its economies which could have put the regional body in fair and strong competing position with EU, ECOWAS has no locus in crying over split milk or to feel threatened about its free trade deals with the EU but to stick to its part of the terms in the EPA. “It is easier to sell in Europe than in Nigeria or Cote d’Ivoire so what is the essence of ECOWAS? Leadership in ECOWAS has been useless… the only way forward for the citizens of member states is to put pressure on their leaders to form a formidable economic union to compete with the European Union,” he added. Nana Akomea deflated the ECOWAS-EU unequal bargaining or competing strengths arguments, illustrating it with a world-class 100metres runner who generously offered the amateur years to train and to have his/her starting-point at 80metres to the endpoint while he/he stands at point zero but came to complain on the day of the contest that s/he was ill-prepared and lacks the required capacity for the race.

Ms Samaia Yaba Nkrumah [8]- the Chair of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) cautions government that the EPA will cost Ghana 30 new hospitals and 40,000 jobs if it signs the agreement and that it will have a negative effect on the local manufacturing sector, as it will put a minimum of 43,000 direct jobs at risk. The Director of Communication for CPP- Nii Armah Akomfrah, reminds that the tariff revenue loss to Ghana over the full implementation period of the EPA (up to 2022) stands at a minimum of $90 million annually. The CPP quotes the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s estimate, which is $150 million annually, and the United Nations and the South Centre’s estimate, which is $374 million annually. In sum, the statement hinted that Ghana was expected to lose between US$1.12 billion and US$5.23 billion over a 14-year period. Wilsoncentre.org argues however that “to their credit and through commendable negotiation dexterity, negotiators from various African countries have managed to exclude a number of subsidized agricultural products and sensitive industries from the negative elements of EPA stipulated market liberalization. JusticeGhana provides below the time-line for the EPA and the ECOWAS [9]:

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