The EU ambassador to The Gambia has argued that The Gambia signing and ratifying the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) deal simply guarantees duty free, quota free, access to the EU market for all Gambian products.
In a rejoinder to a 23rd October publication in The Point, the envoy further argued that the liberalisation of Gambian market to EU products provides affordable and good quality inputs to local producers, increasing the export competitiveness on the Gambian side.
"It is important to highlight that the sensitive products which are key for the development of Gambia will not be subject to liberalisation. In addition, flexible rules for west African products to qualify for the EU access, called 'rules of origin', will allow Gambian companies to easily source inputs from elsewhere without losing their free access to the EU," the envoy argued.
He noted that the scheme offers new industrialisation opportunities and incentives for The Gambia to invest in productive activities.
As a trade and development agreement negotiated between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, EPA has the partners engaged in regional economic integration processes.
They are World Trade Organisation (WTO) - compatible agreements that go beyond conventional free-trade agreements, focusing on African development, EU experts have said, arguing it takes account of the socio-economic circumstances, including co-operation and assistance, to help ACP countries benefit from the agreements.
While EPA opens up EU markets fully, it also allows African countries long transition periods to open up partially to EU imports, providing protection for sensitive sectors.
In the context of West Africa, the EU’s EPA seeks to establish a free trade area between Europe and West Africa (ECOWAS + Mauritania), through the gradual removal of trade restrictions between the two trade partners.
Through this, it is intended to foster the smooth and gradual integration of West African states into the world economy, with due regard for their political choices and development priorities, the EU has argued.
EPA negotiations were officially launched at an all-ACP level on the 27th September 2002. In the West African region, the negotiations between EU and West Africa took off on 4 August 2004 following the launch of the Accra Road Map.
However, The Gambia remains one of the few countries in the ECOWAS bloc that did not sign or ratify the agreement under Jammeh. According to the ex-president, Gambia will never be a party to the EPA with the EU as it is “designed to continue the same exploitation and impoverishment of the African continent.”
“The EPA is meant to accompany West Africa in its development path,” Ambassador Lajos maintained. “In the EPA, a development chapter reaffirms the commitment of the EU to accompany this endeavour through development aid linked to trade, industry, energy and transport infrastructure for The Gambia and west Africa,” he added.
With the change of government, the EU ambassador said the Ministry of Trade confirmed that the process for The Gambia to be part of EPA has begun in earnest.