Vice President John Mahama


By Utche Okwuosah

On May 9, 2012, the Delegation of the European Union (EU) in Ghana, in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MoFEP), organised an interactive confab tagged: "The Future of Ghana-European Union Partnership."

The conference intended to serve as the EU's data gathering forum to inform the formulation and direction of its new agenda for change in its relationship with Ghana against the background of the country's new status as an emerging middle income economy and the new global economic order. In addition to the public, the attendance was a mixed bag of opinion leaders and the Government of Ghana's representatives, chief amongst them, the eloquent and powerful P.V. Obeng, Chairman of the National Development Planning Commission.

Other participants included forefront albeit objective critics of the current government's policies and actions, such as economist, Dr Joe Abbey and the indefatigable Kofi Bentil, Vice President of IMANI, Ghana. Of course, on the EU's side was the Ambassador himself, His Excellency Maerten Claude, with his strategic team, including the prominent Kurt Cornelis, Head of Cooperation for the EU delegation.

Maerten Claude, as would be expected, got the event going by establishing clearly what may be regarded as the quid pro quo basis of the EU's relationship with Ghana.

In these times of agitation against 'aid with strings', the EU would like to be seen as making its terms clear and based on the
fundamentals that would offer a better life to its allies.

Hence, his welcome address was wrapped around the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 between the 27 EU member states which essentially held that in dealing with the wider world, the Union would do its utmost to protect and nurture the social and economic benefit of all. So, it was on the basis of those Lisbon Treaty's values, according to the Ambassador, that relationships with states like Ghana was based.

"On this basis, and the basis of the Cotonou Agreement between the EU, its 27 Member states and the 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries which have ruled our relations since 1975 and will continue to the subject of this conference jointly organised by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and notably the team of Mary Anne Addo and the EU delegation to Ghana," His Excellency Claude noted. Whether or not this was the real purpose of the conference is debatable. Some would characterise the conference as a veil concealing the EU's efforts, albeit subtle, to finally obtain the long desired free access to Ghana's market particularly in the face of Ghana's growing attractiveness, not just to China, but to other emerging economies including the other BRIC members.

"No," Ambassador Claude was quick to dismiss such thinking in a later chat with GB&F. "The EU instead sees the increased presence of China as a good development. That the EU is among many other trading partners of Ghana only goes to show that Ghana has an open economy. Ghana is developing in the right direction," he explained. Cynics insist that, with the present financial and economic crisis in which Europe is embroiled, it is pretty difficult to convince analysts that Europe is simply looking for continued routine diplomatic chit-chat to formulate another long-term partnership agenda. It would seem Europe is desperate to increase the market for its goods and services, especially into Africa which has, in contemporary times, become a credible source of both human and natural resources.

"Yes, we have a crisis," Ambassador Claude responded in anticipation of the sceptics, but he also made it clear that Europe equally has the "capability to deal with the difficulties" associated with the crisis. Europe, he noted, could manage the crisis sufficiently well and still attract more members to the Eurozone.

In other words, Europe is not approaching its trade relationship with a desperate attitude, after all, even in good times, Europe's trade with the entire continent of Africa has not yet gone beyond two per cent mainly because of its existing well-developed intraregional trade, Ambassador Claude explained further.


Maerten Claude, EU Ambassador to Ghana: Ghana has an

open economy and EU sees the increased presence of

China as a good development


He continued: "This conference is about our common future. With a world economic slowdown, there will be less international trade, there will be less demand for your [Ghana's] products, the prices of oil, gas, cocoa, gold will go down, and your [Ghana's] balance of payments might be in deficit. And there will also be less external assistance. This is why during this conference we should look at how we could develop a reinforced economic partnership which should be the first layer of our common future."

"Yes, we have a crisis," Ambassador Claude responded in anticipation of the sceptics, but he also made it clear that Europe equally has the "capability to deal with the difficulties"
associated with the crisis.

The ambiance of the conference however changed, when the welcome address eventually came to the issue of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Ghana. The cat was out of the bag and reactions by Ghanaian attendees rippled through the forum. The doubter felt
vindicated as all earlier good speak were mere palliatives to set the mood right for the main agenda item. "We completed the negotiations and initialled the interim Economic Partnership Agreement in December 2007," the Ambassador informed the audience. He immediately went on to enumerate the gains Ghana has enjoyed from that sliver of goodwill extended to only Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. "This agreement gives Ghanaian products a competitive edge over exports from some other countries and, thanks to the entrepreneurship of many Ghanaians, many exports find their way to Europe, to Rotterdam, London or Marseille. It is important to deliver the full potential of the agreement, to give confidence to investors who today do not know if tomorrow they will be able to benefit from the same provisions as the ones negotiated five years ago," he stated.

The event was not really the place to begin to question the intent of Europe in selecting just a few states from among the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to accord special privileges in the midst of collective regional negotiations. However, the occasion gave sufficient opportunity to a few voices to renew their clarion calls to Ghana to look before leaping. Among those voices was Ambassador James V. Gbeho, the ECOWAS former Commission President, who advised that a broader partnership between the EU and Ghana becomes "an important consideration, especially when Ghana has attained the middle income status."

However, he strongly cautioned that, "no agreement should be signed by any single state with the European Union" where such an agreement does not agree with ECOWAS as an entity. Perceiving the seriousness of the EU's pursuit of an interim EPA with Ghana, civil society had, at a press conference in Accra on May 24, 2012, warned that the country not sign a new interim EPA with the EU because of the well-known consequences. The coalition of civil society organisations known as the Economic Justice Network (EJN), fearing that government may just be at the point of caving in to the EU's pressure, beseeched the Minister of Trade and Industry, Honourable Hannah Tetteh, not to sign the EPA. Despite this lobbying, at the Ghana-EU Partnership forum, the Minister spoke passionately about how the benefits of signing the EPA far outweigh the negatives.

"We have designed the EPA as an instrument to unlock the economic potential of Ghana and its neighbours, to deepen ECOWAS integration, and to smoothen integration into the world economy," Ambassador Claude had insistently explained both at the forum and at other events, including the occasion of the celebration of the European Day at his Accra residence on May 9, 2012. Reacting to this feedback, the EJN stated that "recent utterances by the Minister of Trade and Industry, confirmed intelligence we have gathered from various sources that the Minister is pushing the Ghana government to sign the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement, first initialled in 2007.

"It will be disastrous if the Minister succeeds in this effort," the group said in a statement read by Reverend Dr Fred Deegbe of the Christian Council of Ghana, who is also a member of the coalition.  The EJN is the only civil society organisation or trade group inside and outside of Ghana opposed to the EU's interim EPA. Interestingly, a Working Paper by World Bank researchers, Simplice G. Zouhon-Bi and Lynge Nielsen, titled ECOWAS - Fiscal Revenue Implications of the Prospective Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU, reveals that, should selected ECOWAS countries go ahead and sign the EPA, the losses to the states would be far-reaching. "We find that imports from the EU would increase in the range of 10.5 per cent for Senegal to 11.5 per cent for Nigeria, under a zero tariff/free trade scenario. As a share of total government revenue, revenue loss would be largest for Cape Verde (15.8 per cent) and Senegal (10.4 per cent), because of their relatively large share of imports from the EU and their higher dependence on tariff revenue.

"Ghana would also be significantly affected with an estimated decline in government revenue of 7.1 per cent, while the impact would amount to only 2.4 per cent of government revenue in Nigeria. As a share of GDP, tariff revenue losses amount to 1.0 per cent of GDP in Nigeria, 1.7 per cent in Ghana, 2.0 per cent in Senegal and 3.6 per cent in Cape Verde." With the increasing pressure mounting on the Government of Ghana not to sign on the dotted line, the interim EPA, which appears to be the main instrument holding the hope for EU's increased trade with Ghana, hangs in limbo. Meanwhile, worry about what to do next becomes a serious and present challenge to Europe.

Would their "Agenda for Change" still offer the expected significant value for them? The answer to that million euro question is anyone's guess but, for the long standing positive and stoic negotiator, Ambassador Maerten Claude, "the conference affirmed EU's expectation that Ghana still needs the EU."