Abuja, 31 March 2014/ ECOWAS PRESS RELEASE: West African leaders have endorsed “in principle” the conclusion of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations with the European Union (EU) for a free trade area of the two economic blocs but urged the region’s chief negotiators to take appropriate measures to resolve outstanding technical issues within two months before the signing of the agreement.

“The (ECOWAS) Authority of Heads of State and Government endorses the conclusion of the Agreement in principle but notes that there are outstanding technical issues,” the regional leaders said in a communiqué at the end of their 44th ordinary summit in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire’s political capital, on Saturday, 29th March 2014.

The President of the ECOWAS Commission and his counterpart of the eight-member West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), who are the region’s Chief negotiators, were also directed to establish a committee of representatives of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal to revisit the outstanding issues and make proposals for the consideration of the leaders.

Both officials were mandated to work with the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, which is negotiating the EPA with the region, for an Association Agreement. The protracted EPA negotiations dogged by differences mainly over West Africa’s market access offer and the EPA Development Programme (EPADP), was one of the key issues discussed by the leaders during the two-day Yamoussoukro summit.

West Africa had originally wanted to liberalize 60 per cent of its market over 25 years and an EU initial contribution of 16-billion Euro to the EPADP to enable the region cope with the cost of adjustment.

It eventually agreed a compromise phased 75-per cent market access over 20 years, and 6.5-billion Euro EU contribution to the EPADP over 2015-2019 period.

Both parties have been working over the 12 years of negotiations to narrow their differences before signing the Agreement which will create a World Trade Organization (WTO) compliant arrangement to replace the previous non-reciprocal regime that had guided trade relations between them.

The negotiations received a new impetus in October 2013 when West African leaders after an extraordinary summit in Dakar urged both parties to demonstrate flexibility and also designated President Macky Sall of Senegal to lead the process for the resolution of the outstanding issues.

The Yamoussoukro summit commended the Senegalese President and welcomed the “participatory, consensual and constructive approach” that characterized the process and “paved the way for the finalization” of the negotiations with the EU.