Notes from my official EU Visit: Ghana’s New Trade Minister Must Consolidate the EPA, not Abrogate it

 Last week I urged the new Ghanaian government to be guided by pragmatism in listening to advice from all quarters, but be far sighted in adopting workable ones. I have heard some trade advocacy groups who paid a courtesy call on the then President-elect, Nana Akuffo- Addo, suggesting abrogation or review of the already ratified iEconomic Partnership Agreement between Ghana and the EU. One of them sadly was the rather befittingly named Private Enterprise Foundation.  I had hoped that sound evidenced-based reasons would accompany such arguments rather than resort to populist methods.

It will be suicidal for the NPP government, that boasts of private sector and market-oriented policies to be swayed by populist advice, more so when it has promised to unleash a new wave of industrial estates in each of Ghana’s 276 districts that might engage in agro-processing products for potential markets abroad.

Ghana has 100% duty free and quota free access to EU markets and if the positive annual growth in non-traditional exports are a guide, the new government should invest more of its efforts in that part of agriculture.

It is important to emphasise that the debate over EPAs were legion, but reasons against its positive impacts on Ghana’s and Africa’s growth are scantily unconvincing. The web linked paper here contributed to Ghana’s ratification of the trade agreement with the EU.

On my recent official visit to the European Union and a tour of its related agencies, I had made these same arguments contained in the web linked paper above to a number of sceptical European Members of Parliament in Brussels who had limited understanding of the economic dynamics on the ground in Ghanaian and Nigerian markets especially.  Far from their world view is the reality in Ghana and Nigeria, at least being two markets I know considerably well.  For instance, in March 2016, I asked Aliko Dangote directly during the Economist Magazine’s conference on Nigeria, whether he feared the EPAs. His response was that he was yet to be convinced on the economic math and how his range of businesses will be affected, yet he added that he had developed such capacity and scale that he can compete with China for instance anywhere and any day in Africa. Dangote suggested complementarity in any trade arrangement between Nigeria and any economic bloc.  

That said, the road to the present had been extremely bumpy primarily due to lethargy on the part of our political leaders.  Friends familiar with the iEPA (interim) involving Ghana say that it was eventually was voted in the EU Parliament in favour of Ghana on December 1, 2016 and has since December 25, 2016 been published on the EU website consequently becoming Law. A businessman exporting to the EU market from Ghana lamented when he said to me that ‘’It is essential to note that a significant number of EU MEPs voted against Ghana and some even abstained. Many European countries were not in favour and this is a lesson for us, as a government, to be ahead of the game when it comes to trade deals, agreements, partnerships, especially protecting & strengthening our export-led economy as our neighbour La Cote D’Ivoire is doing without looking back, attracting a lot of FDIs / new multinationals, even those from the   Far East.”

He warned that Brexit was another one occurrence Ghana has to be fast to negotiate a similar bilateral deal as that of the EPA, not leaving things to the last minute.  Ghana needed to take a crucial look “industry rebuilt / focusing on achieving high standards of quality capitalising on the market access regime (duty free & quota free) wherever we open doors and above all, creating jobs.”

It is indeed time for Ghana to be ahead of the curve in all global trade regimes that will likely impact us. While on a tour of the EU last September, I interacted with officials directly responsible for trade, migration and sustainable development. A legion of ideas on developing countries putting forth bankable ideas on the negotiating table exist. We simply need to up our game. There is for instance the July 2017 review of the Cotonou-ACP agreement with a report that will likely impact our trade deals with the rest of the world. How do we in Ghana ensure that our trade arrangements are aligned with the Cotonou-ACP agreement and ECOWAS and that of the African Union? These are matters that need to dominate the attention of our new government and our new Trade Minister in particular as really, trade anywhere in the world should not be a zero-sum game.  Trade must benefit all partners but we must be ready with data and common sense arguments not emotion and hysteria over colonial hangovers.  

Franklin Cudjoe is Founding President of IMANI Center for Policy & Education.