Brussels, 17 June 2009 - The European Union and West African countries have agreed to conclude a regional agreement on trade in goods and development cooperation by October 2009. EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton and Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel met Presidents Chambas and Cissé of the two regional organisations ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and UEMOA (Union économique et monétaire ouest-africaine) and West African Ministers in Brussels. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to moving forward the longer term process to build a lasting partnership between the EU and West Africa.
Commissioner Ashton said: "The decision today has set us on the road to concluding a comprehensive trade partnership with the full West African region. This will support the ongoing economic integration process and development, and I would like to pay tribute to the West African negotiators who have worked so hard with us to establish a regional consensus and get to this point. I am confident we can settle the remaining issues and move forward."
Commissioner Michel said: "Our latest meeting is a clear sign that we are back on track - making steady progress with our West African partners. Our goal must remain to reach an agreement on a full EPA that brings development support and benefits for all countries in the region. This will support regional integration: regional markets that attract investment and sustain jobs and regional governance that can address problems which individual countries can no longer solve on their own. This is much needed during difficult times - such as the present financial crisis."
The agreement to be reached by October 2009 with the whole West African region will cover trade in goods, some trade rules and development cooperation, and will lay the foundations for a comprehensive agreement between the EU and West Africa. The "EPA Programme for Development" (PAPED) was identified as an essential pillar to boost competitiveness of the region, reduce adjustment costs of the EPA, and support regional integration.
European and West African negotiators had met last week in Cotonou (Bénin) and again just before the ministerial meeting in Brussels. Compromises were found on export taxes and free circulation, and on EPA-related development co-operation. It was agreed to continue negotiations on services and certain trade-related issues, such competition and sustainable development, in a phase to be initiated in January 2010. Some other topics including the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause were identified as issues where a compromise needs to be found.
EU-West Africa bilateral trade was worth €43.6 billion in 2008, with more than half of this EU-Nigeria trade. The EU mainly exports industrial goods, in particular machinery (including electrical machinery, 23%), and vehicles (7%) to the region. Aside from oil from Nigeria (55% of West African exports) the region's main exports to the EU are cocoa (11%), iron (8%) and rubber (6%).
Two West African countries, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, initialled bilateral "stepping stone" (or "interim") EPAs with the EU at the end of 2007. The interim EPA with Côte d'Ivoire was signed on 26 November 2008. The new regional EPA will replace these interim EPAs. The region of 16 countries includes 13 least developed countries that benefit from the "Everything but Arms" trade preferences of the EU. Nigeria, representing almost half of the population and GDP of West Africa, is not a least developed country, and has now shifted to the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), under which it benefits from 0% duty on oil, its main export accounting for 95% of its total exports to the EU.