It has been a tough battle to get the European Parliament ready to ratify the EU Ghana interim Economic Partnership Agreement. In one of his regular colums with Borderlex, Christopher Fjellner explains why it is important for the European Parliament to go ahead and ratify a deal that helps Ghanian producers and that the Ghanians want.
West Africa is an increasingly dynamic economic region with output levels comparable Canada but with a growth rate in 2015 of over 7 percent. I sincerely believe that solid trade foundations with Europe will prove important for sustaining that growth, not only in West Africa but also for Europe. It is time we remove our aid-oriented glasses from the 1960’s and see the potential in Africa today and that we all can benefit from that change. An important step to do that would be for the European Parliament to approve the interim or ‘Stepping Stone’ Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA) between the EU and Ghana on Thursday.
There has, however been a lot of opposition to the iEPA. As the overall responsible MEP for EU-West Africa trade relations I am deeply concerned with the neo-imperialist perspective put forward saying that we should reject an agreement that Ghana clearly wants for the sake of Ghana’s citizens.
If our concerns are for the Ghanaian people, the European Parliament must not overrule the decisions by their democratically elected representatives who unanimously adopted the agreement. After all, we are elected to represent European citizens, not Ghanaians. Debate on Ghanaian concerns about the iEPA could and probably should end here. That argument should itself be enough for most of us.
If we still are going to debate this despite the unanimous ratification in Ghana’s parliament I understand why that Parliament is opposed to suggested trade arrangements put forward by the opponents of the iEPA in Europe. Those arrangements under the Market Access Regulation (MAR) or the General System of Preferences (GSP) will most probably hamper growth in Ghana because of their inherent legal insecurity.
The fact that the iEPA is not a perfect agreement is a flawed argument made by opponents to its ratification.
It was never intended to be a perfect agreement. Even the name ‘Stepping stone EPA’ suggests it has always been intended to be temporary. However, it is the best available trade regime between us and Ghana. It is a self-standing agreement that is fully compatible with WTO rules and with definite commitments from both sides. It does not only render duty-free, quota-free access for Ghanaian exports to the European market but also provides for aid-for-trade, trade facilitation, rules to ensure Ghanaian exporters can meet European food safety standards.
The alternative options to the iEPA are indeed unsatisfactory. Keeping Ghana under the MAR creates legal insecurity and Ghanaian officials already stress that this has discouraged investments in Ghana. The MAR can at all times be challenged under WTO rules. Contrary to what has been suggested the MAR might not certainly be accepted by the WTO as the US system as the MAR gives full duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market, contrary to the US system that keeps duties for sensitive products.
Placing Ghana under the GSP or GSP+ regime for its part would hit Ghana hard. Under GSP, producers in key Ghanaian sectors such as tuna and bananas would face duties of around 20 percent when exporting to Europe and for bananas, these duties would remain under GSP+, effectively killing the banana sector in the country.
But all the arguments above should be irrelevant, given the fact that we are elected to represent European citizens. However, none of the concerns raised by opponents to the EPA regard European citizens’ interests but only those of Ghanaian citizens. The fact is that there has been an open debate on the EPAs in Ghana since 2002. This debate has resulted in the Ghanaian parliament, across political lines and including from the socialist party, ratifying the agreement. Opponents of the EPA have been accusing the EU for bullying Ghana to accept this agreement. The truth is that the real bully are opposed MEPS themselves who thinks they know better than their Ghanaian colleagues and try to keep the Ghanians from getting the agreement they actually want.
To quote a letter sent to MEPs by the Foreign Minister of Ghana, Hanna Tetteh, ahead of the vote on Thursday 1 December: “We believe that when it comes to determining the matter of what is in our best national interest, as the elected representatives of the people of Ghana, the Parliament of the Republic of Ghana has both the legitimacy and the mandate to make that determination and not any other third party, irrespective of however well-intentioned such a third party may be” … “I think it would be inappropriate for anyone to suggest that we do not have the capacity to assess what is in the best interest of our country”. And with those words, the curtain fell on the arguments of those who oppose the agreement.
Christofer Fjellner is an MEP from Sweden (EPP) and rapporteur for EU West Africa trade relations