By Joe Dinga Pefok
Some member states of the Central Africa sub-region that resisted signing the Economic Partnership Agreement, EPA, with the European Union, EU, now say they are prepared to get back to the negotiation table as a group to sign the accord.
The countries insist that the terms of the accord they have to sign should be better than the controversial accord that Cameroon unilaterally signed with the EU.
This was the main resolution of a meeting of Ministers of Economy of member states of the Central African sub-region and those of DR Congo and Sao Tome and Principe, that held in Douala on March 3.
Cameroon’s Minister of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, Louis Paul Motaze, chaired the meeting.
It is worth recalling that after the EU got Cameroon to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement, it abandoned discussions with the other member states of CEMAC. Rather, it demanded that the other CEMAC member states should come onboard the EPA either by simply signing the accord that Cameroon signed, or they forget it.
Speaking to the media, a senior official of CEMAC, Pierre Mousa, denounced the attitude of the EU to unilaterally withdraw from talks with the other member states of CEMAC.
He asserted that the Lome Convention which laid the modalities for discussions leading to the signing of the EPA, clearly states that during the negotiations, the interest of each of the parties should be taken into consideration by the other party. This, however, was not the spirit of the EU-Cameroon negotiations.
Terms Unacceptable To Gabon
The Minister Delegate in the Ministry of Economy of Gabon, Noel Mboumba, said the present terms on which the EU wants the country to sign the EPA are unacceptable.
“To open our country to as much as 80 percent of duty-free products and goods from the EU, will definitely not be good for our country. It will be a danger to us, because it will cause a big disequilibrium in our budget,” said Mboumba.
The Minister Delegate explained that revenue from customs duty plays a very important role in the economy of Gabon, especially in terms of state revenue.
He also stressed that duty-free goods and products from the EU will also be damaging to Gabon’s young industrial sector.
So he said to suddenly scrap as much as 80 percent of customs duty, on products and goods from a major trading partner like the EU will create a lot of problems for Gabon.
Mboumba said Gabon would thus like to see some amendments made to the accord that Cameroon signed with the EU.
Though Motaze, did not openly say it during his press briefing, it was clear that Cameroon recognises that it signed a bad deal with the EU. Cameroon is now tacitly wishing that the EU accepts the requests for amendments to the terms of the accord being made by other member states of CEMAC so that she could benefit.
Observers fear that with EU having gotten the biggest economy (Cameroon) in the sub-region to sign the accord, the temptation may be for it to reject any amendments to the accord as demanded by the other smaller countries in the sub-region.
The controversial accord that Cameroon signed and which went into force on August 4, 2016 has created a complicated situation in the CEMAC Zone.
Noel Mboumba said on the one hand some products from member states of the European Union are already entering Cameroon duty free. On the other hand, the other member states of CEMAC that have not signed the accord are still imposing customs duty on those products from the EU.
Then products from one member state of CEMAC enter the other member state duty free.
The Gabonese minister further explained that with some products from the EU now entering Cameroon duty free, some of them might find their way into markets of the other member states of CEMAC.
There is also the fear that some smart importers in those CEMAC member states may start importing duty free products from EU member states though networks in Cameroon, and getting them into those countries, causing big losses to those countries in terms of customs revenue.
Mboumba stated that in the face of such a situation, the other CEMAC member states that have not signed the accord that the EU signed Cameroon have just two alternatives – either these countries get onboard the EPA by signing the accord or they are forced to impose customs duty on products coming into their countries from Cameroon.