More than 40,000 jobs will be lost in the next 10 years if Ghana goes ahead to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) in its present form, the Executive Director of the Third World Network, Dr Yao Graham, has warned.
Ghana has to append its signature to the EPAs by October 1, this year, a deadline fixed by the EU.
Dr Graham also noted that there would be an import tariff loss of more than $120 million per annum after the EPA had been signed.
He sounded the alarm at the Graphic Business/Stanbic Bank Business Breakfast Meeting held in Accra yesterday.
The meeting, on the theme “The Economic Partnership Agreements and its implications for businesses in Ghana”, attracted players in the import and export business, manufacturers, civil society organisation (CSO) representatives, and members of the diplomatic corps, among others
The meeting served as a unique platform for participants to dispassionately discuss the various issues concerning the EPAs, which have culminated into a thorny debate between opposers of the agreement and those in favour of it and to help the government finally take an informed position on the matter before signing the document.
Dr Graham insisted that the EPAs would not be beneficial to member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) because they stood to lose more in international trade taxes as compared to the promise of €6.5billion in aid.
Meanwhile Mr Mutala Mohammed, the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, assured Ghanaians that the government would sign onto an agreement which is beneficial to the people
According to him, the government was not in a haste to sign the agreement that had lingered for almost 12 years and called for calm as it considered the various options before it to ensure a favourable deal for all concerned.
Mr Mohammed pledged on behalf of the government to take on board all suggestions and inputs from civil society organisations (CSOs) and all private sector players in the country as it engages the EU in the final negotiation prior to signing the EPAs.
The EPA itself was introduced some 12 years ago, and we have not signed because we are aware of the consequences, positive and negative. As a result, we are still listening to the strong views of CSOs and all parties concerned and taking them on board to ensure that at the end of the day we sign what will be in the best interest of all,” he assured.
The EPA will grant the 16 West African countries that are expected to sign the pact €6.5 million in aid for the next five years.
The sum is intended to be used for trade adjustment by the countries, and the beneficiaries are each projected to receive about GH¢320 million per year.
But Dr Graham insisted that the pledge of aid was insignificant compared to the international trade taxes that would be forgone.
"The EU is good at recycling old aid as new aid as seen in the climate change debate," Dr Graham said adding "the aid they are offering under the EPA pales into insignificance compared to the international trade taxes that countries will have to forgo under the EPA."
The EPA enjoins member states to open up 80 per cent of their markets for European goods over a period of 20 years.
ECOWAS countries will in turn receive 100 per cent access to the European markets except for rice and sugar. All countries have till October 1, 2016 to sign the EPA.
At the moment, 13 of the 16 ECOWAS countries have initialled the EPA with the exception of Nigeria, The Gambia and Mauritania.
Ghana has indicated its readiness to lobby Nigeria, The Gambia and Mauritania to sign the pact.
Meanwhile, opinions at the breakfast meeting were sharply divided over whether Ghana should sign a substantive trade pact with the European Union (EU), more than 12 years after discussions began on the EPA.
The panel at the meeting took divergent views, cutting across the need for Ghana to take a critical and second look at the contents of the agreement in relation to the need to empower the private sector to make it competitive before any such agreement should be signed.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Private Enterprise Federation, Nana Osei-Bonsu, called on the government to take a second look at the contents of the agreement to ensure that Ghana would benefit more from it, rather than lose, as its current form seemed to portray.
“The private sector is not against Ghana signing the EPA. It will prefer a better negotiation at the table to bring about the various constraints and challenges that the private sector is facing that can be compounded if the EPA is signed as it is today,” Nana Osei-Bonsu said when he articulated the views of a section of the private sector.
The Managing Director of Stanbic Bank, Mr Alhassan Andani, stressed the need for players in the business sector to lift up their game to be able to compete favourably in the global market.
For his part, the Managing Director of Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL), Mr Kenneth Ashigbey, called for efforts to place Ghana in the middle to ensure that it did not lose out after signing the agreement