The signing of the Côte d’Ivoire-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement

The drivers of the economic growth of ECOWAS area are, among others, employment and investment. The potential is there with a market of 300 million people, vast natural riches and considerable geostrategic importance. For now and after some markedly turbulent years with political conflict around the whole region, ECOWAS now seeks above all stability. A stability that is a pre-condition to any attempt at integration. 2009 will be a landmark year for the economic history of the region as free circulation of its citizens is expected to come into place.

It was the final objective of the EU and Cote d’Ivoire officials have worked in the terms of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the whole region, such was not possible. Catherine Ashton, European Trade Commissioner was not at the signing of the EPA and it was in fact the French ambassador in Cote d´Ivoire, M. André Janier, signing on behalf of the EU and Mr. Koné Amadou, Minister of Integration and a key player in the success of the negotiation. It remains unclear if the absence of Catherine Ashton was a sign of a certain lack of appreciation by the EU Commission of the significance of the agreement. Messieur André Janier brought attention to three particular points: first that the EU remains, by far, the first commercial partner of the Cote d’Ivoire; secondly, that the deal represented a win-win situation for the two trade partners; thirdly, that all the key forces of the Cote d’Ivoire had participated in the negotiation process, including representatives from Civil Society.

The deal itself will allow Cote d’Ivoire, one of three non-LDC countries in West Africa (Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria), to keep exporting to the EU at zero-tariff. In return the Cote d’Ivoire will be progressively opening its markets over the next 15 years to European products, progressively complying to the guidelines of the World Trade Organization. The deal has been divisive of African political opinion with some considerable voices, such as Cameroon, condemning the deal as being European-dominated. The group of Least Developed Countries however have less to worry about than non-LDC countries since they benefit from the “everything but arms deal”, an accord that circumvents the zero-tariff inclining tendencies promoted by the WTO and gives the opportunity for this group of countries to keep exporting at zero-tariff to the EU market. Koné Amadou, Cote d’Ivoire’s minister of Integration expects the deal to accelerate the sub-regional and regional integration of West Africa but also recognizes that there have been difficulties regarding the implementation of the free circulation of people and products.

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