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TRADE-SENEGAL: Africa &#39&#39Will Not Be the Winner&#39&#39 of the EPAs

Hamadou Tidiane Sy

DAKAR, Jul 17 2007 (IPS) - &#39&#39I do not know if a winner will emerge from the signing of the economic partnership agreement under the current conditions but I know for sure that Africa cannot be the winner,&#39&#39 says Amadou Ba, who heads the international negotiations division at Senegal’s ministry of commerce.

Speaking to IPS in Dakar, Ba, who has been involved in the economic partnership agreements (EPA) talks at national and international level, raised a number of critical issues to support his view. These were similar to those expressed by African civil society organizations when they met in Accra, Ghana, at the end of June just before the African heads of states summit this year.

Senegalese experts and civil society activists say that signing the EPA would mean lifting all trade barriers to European products entering the markets of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, and they fear the negative impact of such a decision.

Senegal is not negotiating with the European Union on its own but rather through the regional bloc of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). A national committee has been set up to follow up the negotiations and prepare national positions to submit to ECOWAS.

The committee is composed of government representatives, civil society leaders and businesspeople.

‘‘It would be a deadly error to repeat the mistakes made by our predecessors,’’ Ba said, partly in reference to those who negotiated African states’ entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The Senegalese and other West African governments are demanding that the EU agree to a three year moratorium to prepare the ground for the EPAs and to help the African states and companies to improve their ability to face up to the stiff competition which will come in the wake of the EPAs. ACP countries already have access to the European markets for up to 97 percent of their products under current trade arrangements, so any change to the trade regime will only profit the EU countries and their enterprises, Ba explained.

Civil society organizations have launched a national campaign with the theme ‘‘Stop the EPAs’’. ‘‘Signing the EPAs will create various shocks to this country’s economy’’, according to Mame Mignane Diouf, coordinator of the Senegalese Social Forum, an anti-globalization movement.

He spoke to IPS a few days before heading a demonstration aimed at blocking the agreements from being signed.

Organized on July 11, this demonstration took a handful of protesters to the heart of the Senegalese capital for a march which ended at the ministry of commerce where they handed over a document demanding a total rejection of the EPAs.

The first and most dramatic shock to Senegal will be the loss in terms of the national budget. Senegal, Diouf explained, could see its national budget fall by up to 10 percent due to a drop in revenue caused by the EPAs.

The second shock will be to the ‘‘agricultural sector and the already frail industrial sector’’ of the country, which will die when faced with direct competition from big western companies.

Yet, the EU has offered to ‘‘help’’ support local industries and companies to prepare for the competition once the EPAs are signed, Louis Michel, EU commissioner for development, has said in various capital cities around the African continent.

Michel has insisted that there is no way the December 31 deadline can be missed. From the EU’s vantage point, Europe has already given ‘‘everything it can’’. Recently in Accra he accused the civil society organizations leading the campaign for not having a ‘‘proper understanding’’ of what the EPAs are all about.

The EU has supplied some support even before the controversial agreements have come to fruition. But the big question is: Is it enough? Will it be of any use in the end?

In Senegal this advance support is done through the French Agency for Development (AFD) which has set up a national programme to help strengthen the local economy and particularly the private sector in terms of infrastructure improvement, capacity building and so forth.

But the results are not visible yet and the business community is equally worried, even though they have declared that they do not have the same objectives and the same approach as the civil society organizations.

‘‘These organizations are in the field of anti-globalization and are saying ‘no’ to the EPAs while we are fighting for the survival of our businesses,’’ Yousou Diop, deputy director at the nongovernmental National Council of Senegalese Employers, told IPS.

‘‘It is true we are not ready yet and we have serious concerns,’’ he adds, explaining that even in five years or more, local companies will not have reached the level of competitiveness required to compete with the huge European multinationals.

For the business community, the local private sector needs ‘‘more time’’ to get ready and be able to face the new challenges to be introduced by the EPAs. Otherwise, they claim, the whole Senegalese economy will collapse. As will those of other ACP countries.

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