|“10 years of EPA negotiations is a long time," Minister Kebba Touray said.|
Gambian Minister Kebba Touray has said the Economic Community of West Africa States, ECOWAS, and Mauritania have now reached the “crossroads” on its 10-year long negotiations on an Economic Partnership Agreement, EPA.
“We have to choose which path to take,” the Minister of Trade Industry and Employment told ECOWAS Member States and Mauritania at the beginning of a sub-regional seminar in Banjul on Monday.
Mr Touray challenged parties to the ECOWAS-organised seminar on Market Access Offer and the EPA Development Programme “to reach a final negotiation agreement on the decade-long discussions on the EPA Trade Liberalization Development Programme”.
The negotiations are integral to the region’s integration process and in redefining its economic relation with one of its key trade partners, the European Union (EU).
“It is imperative that we must move forward as a community and not as individual states, for the latter will undermine our development process as a region,” Touray said. “Our choices have been narrow by time.”
He noted they cannot return to the past or remain stagnant, saying the only option is to move forward guided by a well thought-out strategy within the framework of give and take, mutual respect and mutual interest.
“The negotiating of this Economic Partnership Agreement has been an issue for a decade now and for me 10 years is a long time in the history of our community,” he said.
During the period of negotiations, Member States of the sub-regional economic bloc requested for more time, which was given by the ECOWAS Commission.
However, Mr Touray said: “Time is never enough and I believe the time given was reasonable even for bigger economies of the region, to carry out conclusive analysis.”
“Members States should not forget that the negotiations are between a highly developed community (the EU) and a developing community (West Africa), with a majority of Least Developed Countries among us,” says Touray, whose country is currently involved in stalled talks with the EU over political reforms.
The sub-region’s primary concern remains the achievement of a development-friendly EPA that is beneficial to its member countries and as a community.
“The Gambia would like to insist that the development component of the EPA cannot and should not be sacrificed for expediency on the offer of increased market access demanded by our partners,” Touray said.
Written by Modou S. Joof