At an ECOWAS heads of state and government meeting held at the end of March 2014, West Africa leaders endorsed the EPA agreement with the EU in principle, but some member states, particularly Nigeria, “voiced concerns over technical issues” related to “the potential negative impact of the deal on [Nigeria’s] industrial sector if certain products were allowed tariff-free entry into its market”. As a consequence, a 2-month deadline was set “to eliminate lingering areas of disagreement”.
Press reports noted that failure to conclude a deal would impact on Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. However, Côte d’Ivoire’s trade minister expressed confidence that an agreement would be reached before the deadline of 1 October 2014.
In the final communiqué, the heads of state and government noted “with satisfaction the significant progress made by the Chief Negotiators in the quest for compromise” (Article 17) and endorsed “the conclusion of the Agreement in principle”, while noting the existence of “outstanding technical issues” (Article 18). A committee, which includes Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, was to be established by the Chief Negotiators “to look at these issues and to present the final outcomes to the heads of state and government”.
EC representatives were cautious following the meeting of the heads of state and government, emphasising that the decision lay with West African governments.
Nigeria’s long-standing reservations over the implications of an EPA agreement for domestic agricultural and industrial policy formulation need to be seen in the context of the Nigerian government’s active use of trade measures to restrict trade, as an integral part of national agricultural and manufacturing transformation policy agendas.
However, this is an issue not just in the EPA context, but also in that of the introduction of the ECOWAS common external tariff (CET), scheduled for 1 January 2015. The differential application of special levies on imports and outright trade bans introduced in Nigeria has fuelled a large-scale informal cross-border trade, and the ECOWAS CET commitments implicitly require such measures to be scrapped (see Agritrade article ‘Benin profits from Nigeria’s agricultural trade policy’, forthcoming 2014).
There is some evidence that the Nigerian government is beginning to consider adjusting its national policies in order to reduce informal trade, which in some sectors has reached such a scale as to profoundly impact on formal trade flows and the underlying objectives of national sector development strategies (see Agritrade article ‘Uncertain movement on Nigeria’s rice trade policy’, forthcoming 2014).
In this context, an accommodation that allows Nigerian concerns over EPA provisions to be addressed as part of the wider ECOWAS trade integration process could offer a way forward. This would, de facto, place primacy on intra-regional trade developments, while allowing EC concerns to be progressively addressed. However, it would require the EU to tolerate certain aspects of Nigerian trade policies that are inconsistent with EPA commitments while the issues are being resolved at the intra-regional level.
This could be seen as consistent with the flexible approach subsequently adopted by the EU under the EU–CARIFORUM agreement regarding the more active use by certain Caribbean governments of trade policy tools that the EPA sought to eliminate (see Agritrade articles ‘ Implementation of Caribbean tariff cuts in the spotlight’, 27 August 2012 and ‘ Revised tax package to curb food imports announced in Jamaica’, 3 September 2012).