There is renewed pressure on Nigeria from the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which has been touted to be the elixir that would enhance the country’s diversification agenda and regional integration. The head of trade and economic section, EU delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Filipppo Amato said that signing the agreement would accelerate Nigeria’s industrial development, discard EU tariffs on Nigerian exports, protect domestic industries, agriculture and consumer products, while manufacturers would benefit from lower input prices, and that the EPA would enhance cooperation on issues such as standards, trading, agriculture investment and custom cooperation. The ECOWAS commissioner for trade, customs and free movement, Laouali Chaibou also urged Nigeria to sign the agreement which, according to him, would make the region’s production the centre for export to Europe.
Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are trade and development agreements negotiated between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners engaged in regional economic integration processes. The Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and regions aim at promoting ACP-EU trade and ultimately contribute, through trade and investment, to sustainable development and poverty reduction. The EU is a major trading partner for ACP countries and is the main destination for agricultural and transformed goods as well as commodities including oil, from ACP partners. Statistics show that trade with ACP countries represents more than 5 per cent of EU imports and exports. The EPAs intend to support trade diversification by shifting ACP countries’ reliance on commodities to higher-value products and services.
In 2014, the EU signed an EPA with ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union. The pressure on Nigeria to sign the agreement stems from the fact that all the ECOWAS countries, apart from Nigeria and The Gambia, have signed the agreement. However, the EPA can only be binding if all ECOWAS member states sign and if at least two thirds ratify the agreement. Nigeria’s refusal to sign the agreement is as a result of some contentious issues in the document which are yet to be addressed. President Muhammadu Buhari had at a special session of the European Union (EU) parliament in Strasbourg, France, said that Nigeria was yet to sign the agreement because pertinent technical issues raised by the federal government had not been satisfactorily addressed. One of the issues, according to the president, was that giving due consideration to the mismatch of the two regions (Europe-ECOWAS) in terms of technology and manufacturing experience, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and Associated Trade Unions (ATU) had raised concerns over the negative impact of the agreement on Nigeria’s industrialisation programme.
MAN had expressed fears that the EPA will make Nigeria a dumping ground for finished products from the EU. Other concerns that have been raised are that Nigeria has no major export apart from oil, why Nigeria should sign an old fashioned agreement which concerns only trade in goods, rather than entering into a new trade generation agreement covering all sectors, such as services, investments, intellectual property, competition and why the EU is putting pressure on Nigeria to sign the EPA. President Buhari had at the time, said Nigeria was working towards addressing her own side of the issues and urged the EU to also address Nigeria’s concerns to allow for an Economic Partnership Agreement that is mutually beneficial and can contribute to the prosperity of the people of Nigeria in the context of the partners’ shared values and interest at promoting cordial bilateral trade relations.
While we urge the Nigerian government to, as the president promised, expedite action on resolving the issues on its own side in a manner that would be in tandem with global best practices, we also implore the EU to rather than pressurise the country into signing the agreement, address the concerns raised to remove any suspicion about its real motive in coming up with the EPA. Nigeria is currently diversifying its economy away from oil to other sectors such as agriculture and the EPA may come in handy in terms of earning foreign exchange from non-oil exports.
The benefits to be derived from the signing and ratification of the EPA may be enormous but we urge the Nigerian government to remain resolute on its insistence that the issues raised be addressed before it signs the agreement. Nigeria is signatory to many agreements which have turned out not to be beneficial to the country, either as a result of the failure of those who were part of the process on the Nigerian side to carry out due diligence and interrogate the terms of the agreement, or because the agreements served the interest of those who were in positions of authority at the time. Whatever economic agreements Nigeria signs at this time must be structured to industrialise the economy as the country, giving present realities, can no longer rely solely on exporting raw commodities and unprocessed agricultural products. The government must seek input from all relevant stakeholders and thoroughly check the agreement to be certain it is in the country’s best interest, if it is to be ever endorsed.