IMANI Ghana has said the recent economic hardships had turned much attention to strengthening and diversifying the export sector as the primary and focal means to build a resilient economy.

A statement issued to the Ghana News Agency by IMANI Center for Policy and Education said this made the impact of the European Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union (EU) and Ghana or the entire ECOWAS region exceptionally pivotal.

It said: ?The EU represents Ghana?s largest trading partner, with an average of 40 per cent of our Non-Traditional Exports (NTEs) ending up in Europe.

?Presently, the NTE export climate is being helmed by the Interim European Partnership Agreement (IEPA) which was initialed in 2007. In the ECOWAS region, an EPA was initiated to replace the Cotonou Agreements. However, technicalities have held up the signing of the EPA to date.?

It explained that the IEPA was exceptionally necessary for Ghana in the interim because unlike the other countries in the sub region, there was no viable provisional trade agreement to fill the gap.

?Of the 15 countries in the West African bloc, 12 countries considered Least Developed Countries (LDCs) were guaranteed full tariff free, quota free access to EU market under the Everything but Arms (EBA) program? it said.

It said; ?Of the remaining three, Nigeria was secured by its major export commodity being exempt from tariffs and Ivory Coast has already indicated that it would ratify the IEPA (1)?.

According to the statement, IEPA stipulates that 75 per cent of imports from the EU would be duty free in exchange for 100 per cent EU market access for Ghana except rice and sugar.

It said the slicing of EU tariffs was to be executed over 15 years, with the first five years seeing no change in tariffs, adding the 25 per cent of imports from the EU that would incur tariffs was to protect the agricultural produce and products currently manufactured in Ghana.

It said initial feedback after signing the IEPA had been positive from the exporters of non-traditional products adding, ?these groups of industries endorse the passage of the ECOWAS EPA which was to have taken place in March 2014 at a meeting of the ECOWAS Heads of State?.

?It, however, has been postponed to May 2014 in order to rectify technicalities in the contract. Response and perception of the EPAs, especially from civil society organizations, has been overwhelmingly negative? it added.

The main critiques being that it causes a loss of revenue to government in import tariffs from the EU, and it will ruin the local industries that will be unable to compete with the influx of cheaper products from the EU.

The statement said the second argument against signing the IEPA and ECOWAS EPA Agreements was the collapse and erosion of the local manufacturing industries that would be unable to compete.

It said petroleum made up more than 30 per cent of imports adding ?in Ghana, the primary local competition is the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) unfortunately, TOR has been unproductive for a great majority of the past four years due to repeated shutdowns?.

?In the textiles industry, its struggles pre-dates the EPA agreements with the EU. The main challenges of the textile industry today are cheaper products and also fake products from China. In spite of the import tariffs imposed on the imported textiles, the local industry is still on the ropes,? it said.

The statement noted that if Ghana failed to ratify the EPA, the country would find it extremely difficult to attract Foreign Direct Investments and it would also need to find favorable export markets and import partners. GNA

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