West African Private Sector And Epas (11)
This Day (Lagos)
10 July 2007
Posted to the web 11 July 2007
By Ken Ukaoha
Before we lambast the regional and national governments on the negotiation of the Economic Partnership Agreements (ACPs), there is need for a constructive balance.
First, do the private sector in West Africa realise they are relevant in the EPA discourse? If they do realise, what efforts have they put in place and what have they done to either confront the issues, protect themselves or help provide succour to the environment under which they are operating (even if they are doing this at the level of their commitment or as part of their corporate social responsibility)?
If the private sector has not been able to meet and to review issues and the dynamics of the negotiations since about five years of the EPA dialogue, who went to sleep and who is to be blamed if an awful agreement eventually becomes the outcome? If it is the responsibility of the government to wake the private sector and such governments become negligent, is this a guarantee for the private sector to go to sleep?
Do we have any local or national private sector in West Africa who can boast of conducting impact assessment of EPA on her sectors and providing such information to her government as a guide in the negotiations?
Has any of the private sector deemed it important to convene a meeting of like minds at national or even local levels to appraise the possible effects of EPA on her operators? Were they waiting for resources from their governments or the EU to do these?
This is indeed a shame even as our governments are going cap in hands to the Europen Union (EU) for funds to conduct their own impact assessments studies. Where are the manufacturers? Where are the traders? Where are the Chambers of Commerce and Industries? Where are the farmers organisations? Where are the professional associations in various fields of services?
This reminds one of the West African Traders Association, the West African Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of West African Manufacturers Associations; where have these bodies gone to? Are these bodies only on paper? How active are they to their responsibility and obligation as pressure groups to influencing government policies such as the EPA?
Or are they waiting for the government to wake them up? They must carry their crosses too. Our governments are too busy especially at this period with no time left for frivolity.
Credit must however be accorded ROPPA for giving the region’s farmers a semblance of representation in the EPA process through the provision of briefs and informative materials relating to the agricultural sector.
To appreciate the depth of apathy on the part of the West African private sector, there is need to reflect on the fact that ECOWAS was established precisely on the 28 th of May 1975 and therefore more than 32 years ago therefore, the pursuit of economic integration in West Africa kick-started.
Sadly, till this day, despite the provisions of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS), the private sector (particularly the traders and manufacturers) still confront trade impediments at various borders across the region.
The protocols on free movement of goods and services daily face the challenge of corrupt public servants and nothing seems to come from the private sector to challenge or pressure for change in this direction.
Back to the EPAs, there seem to be more fundamental questions that need to be asked by the private sector. These questions include: (i) What does the EPA have in stock for the private sector as potential gains? The answer to the question goes a long way to determine why the private sector must support or fight against EPAs.
This is essential especially in view of the revelation of serious potential effects of the EPA in terms of capital flight which ultimately affects not only the government but also the private sector’s capacity to reinvest for expansion of profits.
Has the EPA negotiators from both sides considered the effects of competition and consequential loss of market to the EU private sector who already possess an intimidating financial muscle, robust infrastructure, technology, research, and subsidy?
Is the EPA cognisant of the fact that the West African famished manufacturer for instance virtually sources her own energy to power her generators, digs her own borehole for water procurement, and sometimes constructs and repairs her own road outlets to the market aside from the heavy tax duty to be paid?
What plans or strategic interventions do the EPA negotiators have in place in practical terms for the local private sector to withstand the ensuing competition after the implementation of the EPAs?
If there are resources created to abridge the foreseen negative fallouts of the EPA, are these funds going to the governments directly? What portion should be made available directly to the private sector and what is their role or take in the management of such resources?
On the other side, are there going to be provisions for infrastructure improvement via the EPAs? What dimension is that going to assume so as to impact on the region’s supply side capacity? The planned UNIDO project for infrastructure in West Africa under the EPA could be a welcome development if well managed alongside the input of the private sector.
In the final analysis, we have heard of project facilities like that of ProInvest, TradeCom, CDE, and even OIF (Francophonie) and the EDF.
The reservation is that whereas these have been existing prior to the possible EPA implementation, it is not clear however what impact they have been able to make in relation to infrastructure upgrading, capacity building, production enhancement, etc in the region.
In this case therefore, one could be a bit unsure of their linkages to the EPA and what they can offer given the bogus, stringent and sometimes ridiculous measures and bureaucracy set out for accessing development funds from them.
Perhaps it is time to begin to measure how many private sector enterprises that have assessed funds from them. If the number is encouraging, then there could be hope for their performance under the EPA regime, but their processes have to be simplified.
As the EPA negotiations approach conclusion, it is not too late for the private sector to engage governments on with debates on concerns and issues like the speed at which trading of goods and services should be liberalised, issue of upgrading the production facilities.
We also have the issues of improving supply capacities and making local products meet international standards, access to market problem and necessary conditions for the development of West African exports, financing of the private sector, the involvement of the sector in the trade negotiations, protection of products made in the region as well as options for Private-Public partnership in the EPA process.
Essentially therefore, it is important to egg the private sector into demanding answers to the many questions raised here, including whether the time-frame is enough for the possible conclusion of a development friendly agreement.
If these questions remain unanswered, then the West African private sector and indeed every other private sector within the ACP configuration should prepare to face a hot battle for existence.
If not, now is the right time to come together, voice out, act and to demand for changes and possible alternatives in the EPAs. Indeed, the West African private sector should learn from their civil society counterparts in the region.
- Ukaoha, National President of the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS), wrote in from Abuja