Friday, March 19, 2010

Workshop on EPAs For CSOs, Media

NEWS BANJUL THE GAMBIA(MB)-The National Youth Association for Food Security (NAYAFS) in collaboration with National Alliance for Food Security on 23 February 2010 at the Baobab Holiday and Resort jointly organised a day-long sensitisation workshop on the Economic Partnership Agreementd (EPAs).
The sensitisation workshop brought together civil society organsiations, media and stakeholders from the public and private sectors to sensitize them on the possible effects of the EPAs on lives and livelihoods, especially of rural communities.
Alagie Kebbeh the Director of NAYAFS speaking at the official opening ceremony said the “right to food” and “trade justice” are among the key program areas that NAYAFS embark on to support and empower the poor and socially excluded.
According to him, international trade agreements and rules continue to affect millions of poor people’s life and livelihood daily in the world, including The Gambia.
He said that as the negotiation process on the EPAs is going on, “we as trade justice advocates continue to be skeptical on the results of a finalized trade package based on reciprocal basis between the European Union (EU) and West Africa”.
The propose agreement, he continued, poses a threat to the giant economic development strides that the country (The Gambia) has seen in recent years, which was primarily based on the sound and prudent management of domestic and customs generated income.
“If the EPAs come into force, it will unfortunately incapacitate the country’s revenue generation” Mr. Kebbeh added.
He revealed that the pressure from the EU is intensifying daily on some of the least developed countries (LDCs), which prompted NaYAFS, as a matter of urgency, to work to unite all stakeholders, that is, policy makers, law makers, CSOs, farmers, private sector operators and the media to engage in a dialogue on the state of affairs of the negotiations on the EPAs that lies ahead.
Mr. Kebbeh told participants that Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have signed the EPAs, but as an interim measure.
Mr. Kebbeh said an agreement relating to the EPAs was signed in Cotonou on 20 June 2000. He added that EPAs seek to establish a new WTO (World Trade Organisation) compatible trading arrangement that would progressively remove barriers of trade between the EU and the African, Carribean and Pacific (ACP) countries, building on the regional integration initiative of ACP states.
The new partnership agreement called the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, according to him, replaced the Lome Convention.
Under this agreement, he said, ACP countries had free non-reciprocal access to the EU market for nearly all products and for a wide range of agricultural products.
Mr. Kebbeh further noted that the deadline for signing the EPAs between the EU and the ACP countries was supposed to be on 31 December 2007, but it has never happened.
“EPAS will not afford the benefits of promoting regional integration, since EPAS will be negotiated between the EU and various regional groups of the ACP regions, such as ECOWAS for West African countries.
Mr. Kebbeh saluted the efforts of the CSOs and the West African negotiators for their efforts in speaking with one voice for the EPAS not to be signed. So far, the 16 ECOWAS countries including Mauritania did not sign, according to Mr. Kebbeh.
He told participants that the media and the CSOs need to strengthen partnership at all times, and asked media practitioners to always knock on the doors of experts to get information.
“You also need to make research, engage in reporting on trade issues, give prominence to trade in your coverage; it is a very important sector. You also need to build your capacity be conversant with subjects you write on”, he pointed out.
For the CSO, Mr. Kebbeh said “you need to burn the midnight candle, read hard every day and any document that you lay hands on, because you are always in a debate with experts”.
“We the CSOs are not enemies to government but need to take on a pro-active role; we are not looking for any interest, but our collective interest. That is what we the CSOs advocate for, and we don’t want to engage in any confrontation with governments”, Mr. Kebbeh added.
He spoke of all kinds of skepticism about the EPAs, and that this is not only in the ACP countries, but also in Europe, concerning trade negotiations.
“Skepticisms have been expressed in several quarters. The end of trade asymmetries will bring about many serious consequences, for which The Gambia is ill equipped, that is, the lowering of customs and budget revenue, competition with imported products, and so on.
The “Right to Food” Manger ActionAid The Gambia, Buba Khan, thanked the CSOs “for keeping the momentum on” in the EPA negotiations between the EU and ACP countries.
He also hailed the West African negotiators for coming up with a text expressing their point of view, saying that “before it was a framework but now it is our own original text based on negotiations on the EPAs”.
According to Mr. Khan, at the time of speaking, there was no deadline on EPAs, that is, for ACP countries to sign before it elapses.
“But still we are pushing, pushing everyday regarding the agreements” Mr. Khan said, adding that it is important for the communities at the grassroots to understand the impacts of EPAs.
This was followed by a question and answer session. The programme was the start of a series of programmes on the EPAS, including a caravan.

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