New ambassador says EU won’t give up on Economic Partnership Agreement with Nigeria

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– ‘With 25.3Bn euro, Nigeria is EU’s biggest trading partner in Africa in 2017

By Codratus Godson

Port Harcourt

The European Union (EU) says it will not give up on its effort to convince the Federal Government of Nigeria to sign on to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) proposed by the EU to West African states. The immediate past EU ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Michael Arrion, had worked hard on the deal but departed Nigeria without breaking down the barriers to the EPA proposition.

Nigeria is said to be the only ECOWAS country yet to sign onto the proposed deal which offers low or no export duty to partner-countries from West African into Europe, in return for giving EU countries increased access to the ECOWAS market. Some products are to be exempted in the deal to allow ECOWAS countries have monopoly in sensitive sectors.

EU had proposed to help Nigeria meet its production quota in order to compete better under EPA but Nigerian manufacturers urged the FG not to endorse the deal, saying the sweeteners were meant to hide inner poisons. The Federal Ministry of Trade had said in 2017 it was engaging in more consultations with various national groups to smoothen EPA’s rough edges, but the EU fears that Nigeria may be left behind in a new deal with ECOWAS in gaining access to European markets at very low export duty fees.

The new EU ambassador, Ketil Karlsen, declared in Port Harcourt Monday afternoon (May 28, 2018), that the EU would not give up on getting Nigeria to join other ECOWAS countries to sign up on the trade deal. He spoke at the ‘Investors Lunch Network’ by the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum (REIF) in conjunction with the EU, attended by the UK office in Nigeria. The gurus of industry and government leaders in attendance examined the idea of ‘Entrenching Purposeful Leadership for Rapid Economic Development’.  Issues on de-risking the Rivers business climate were treated by a special panel.

The diplomat said it was not true that it was healthy for Nigeria can stay behind when other ECOWAS countries or its competitors move on. The EU had at previous engagements with Nigerian businesses in Port Harcourt warned that if other ECOWAS countries export into Europe at zero to six per cent rate under EPA and Nigeria continues to export at about 12 per cent rate, that Nigerian products would be more expensive than its competitors.

Also, the EU had promised under EPA to help ECOWAS countries produce international standard quality goods that would pass EU tests. The implication is said to be that other producers in West Africa would produce higher quality goods and leave Nigeria behind. If this is added to the refusal of Nigeria to sign the Africa Union common market deal, it may mean that Nigeria be an isolated giant.

Karlson however said Europe was not prepared to leave behind Africa’s biggest trading partner whose 2017 trade value hit 23.3 euros. “If Nigeria does not open up its market, opportunities will escape. We continue to engage Nigeria in the important matter of signing the EPA. We won’t give up.”

Karsen attracted a huge applause when he promised that his term would strive to bring back EU investments back to Nigeria with much force. “Its wrong that the biggest bank in Europe is not in the biggest country in Africa. It will be our task in the coming months’.

The political head of the Niger Delta desk of the United Kingdom, Louise Edward, who represented the UK Ambassador to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright, described the Niger Delta as an important region to the UK. She said the UK has noted the various efforts being made to promote peace in the oil region and would encourage the Rivers State government actions to resolve tax policy issues and promote use of technology in solving problems confronting the region.

Speaking, the president of REIF, Ibifiri A.C. Bob-Manuel said Lagos was waxing far ahead of Port Harcourt when the Niger Delta had all it takes to move ahead such as oil, land, manpower, etc.

He said the business sector has decided to stand up and tell the government what was needed to be done instead of sitting to lament all the time looking up to the government.

He recalled the successful debate of 2015 hosted for the topmost governorship contestants in Rivers State, saying REIF had to drag them to sign what whoever won must do to promote businesses. He said REIF is ready to do it again in 2019.