SANDERS: European Union-ECOWAS Partnership Is Not Favourable To African Countries



Sir Ronald Sanders, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, was former High Commissioner for Antigua and Barbuda to the United Kingdom and former Ambassador to the European Economic Community. Currently, Sanders is the aspirant for the post of Commonwealth Secretary General. In this interview with JOHN OKEKE he bared his mind on why Nigeria should express interest in the signing of European Union-ECOWAS Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), while enumerating his vision for the post of Secretary General.

What are the merits of European Union-ECOWAS Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) to African countries?
THERE are no merits if it remains in its present condition. We already have five African regions at hand that signed up to the interim form, but the truth of the matter is that it is unequal treaty and it is unbalanced. You must remember that this is a bilateral arrangement between all 28 European Union countries and each country in Africa individually. It is not an economic partnership arrangement between Europe collectively and Africa collectively. It is an economic partnership between the 28 European nations, which have a GDP of $18.5 trillion and each country in Africa individually.

Take the relationship between Nigeria, which is the most populous of African countries. Nigeria’s GDP is about $500 billion, but collective is $30.5 trillion. There is no comparison. And therefore, they want access to your market and you must allow them to comment, but it will give them access that will bring subsidised agriculture products into Nigeria to compete with your farmers.

Local farmers will not get those subsidies nor compete with them. What that will mean is that eventually, Nigerian consumers will be buying European products not Nigerian products. Nigerian farmers will not be able to sustain their livelihood. They will have to abandon the land. And what will the young people do? The people move off the land and go into the urban areas, which are already overcrowded. Either that or they will seek to immigrate; but even the immigration is not a lucky way for them. So, the rate of unemployment, crime, all these things will follow.

I don’t believe that Africa is wise to go ahead doing this. And I believe it will be in Africa’s interest to stand up collectively to say, yes we want to have a look at this agreement again. We want to consider it more carefully. The problems with other African countries going ahead and signing this is that they put those who have not signed, like Nigeria, in a difficult position. It weakens Nigeria while others to go ahead. Nigeria has to make up her mind, whether it will go on with the rest of Africa and put its economic future at risk or whether it will make a stand now and say no and try to convince the rest of Africa to come with it.

EPA remains a thorny trade issue between Europe and Africa, can you throw more light on this?
It is a clear issue. We are talking about the relationship between Europe and Africa. The
28 European countries are huge number of people. Very rich, they have a lot of power. The best analysis I can use is if you put a heavyweight boxer into a boxing ring against a lightweight, clearly you know the result of that fight already. That fight will not last a single round and this is the nature of the relationship that Europe is trying to impose upon us.

The deadline for signing the EPA agreement was missed last year October and Europe is insisting it would not come back to the negotiation on the table. How do we reconcile this?
Well, the Europeans are hardly interested in the partnership if they tell you that. What they are simply saying if you don’t come to table on our terms, then we don’t talk to you. But then why do you want a partnership with me? If you want a partnership, which you feel is honorable and is proportional, then you should be ready to talk with me about what are my deep concerns. You should want to address this deep concern. You wouldn’t want to impose on me something unsustainable. Something I cannot convince my manufacturers to accept and may lead to unemployment in my country. My own companies being dislocated in the old market. You must understand that European is genuinely interested in the partnership. And they should not close the door for negotiation What is your advise to the current administration in Nigeria?

Well, I think what the government has to do is to speak to the stakeholders in Nigeria. The government has to fashion a position on this . Listen to the manufactures, farmers, banks, private sector and trade union. Once it reaches a national consensus, then I think the government is in a better position to decide what next to do because whatever it does she must be doing so by the backing of Nigerian society or the stakeholders in it. It may be a tough decision to take at the end but whatever decision must be done with the national stakeholders.

Coming to your candidacy for position of Secretary General of Commonwealth, what are your visions?

The Commonwealth is a very important organisation of countries like ours. It is a Commonwealth of the developing countries. We constitute the majority of the members of the Commonwealth, yet our agenda on the world stage is not given adequate attention. We are marginalised in the international economic community. We don’t have a strong voice in the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We don’t have a strong voice in the World Bank and we don’t have a strong voice in the G20.

The only Africa country in G20 is South Africa. And India and South Africa are the only countries in the G20 from the developing world. We need our voice to be heard. The Commonwealth is an important organisation for us because we can use the Commonwealth, not only to advance the courses in which we have a great interest within the Commonwealth, but we can get outside the commonwealth into the World Trade Organisation into the World Bank, into the IMF and into the G20.

So, the Commonwealth could be a very important platform for us. I am going for the job of Secretary General because I would like the Commonwealth to become a voice to these issues. And that is not to say that I want to exclude the larger community of Commonwealth countries and the industrialised countries like the Australian and Canada from the discussion. It is important we carry those countries with us in the discussion that we need to address the real development issues surrounding the developing world.

With Canadian and Australian help, we were able to get the Commonwealth as a whole, that helped with freeing South Africa from apartheid. We now have a country that is ruled by the majority.

So, that collaboration between the developed Commonwealth countries and the developing one is important. One of the reasons I want to run for this job is because I believe that I can make a dialogue arrangement that will make it become so regular, so sustained and so meaningful between the developed and the developing Commonwealth that we can define an agenda on which we can agree and that agenda is the agenda we can take forward in the interest of all the people.

This office requires the experience of operations of the Commonwealth Secretariat; how prepared are you?
I have twice been a member of executive board –– the governing board of Commonwealth Secretariat. I served from 1983 to 1987 and then I served again from 1996 to 2004. So, I know the operations of the secretariat. I was also an adviser to the Secretariat and the World Bank. I served in Commonwealth community of Southern Africa to free Nelson Mandela. I was also a member of Eminent Person Group between 2010 and 2011, which was commissioned by the heads of government to look at the Commonwealth and make a recommendations on how it can be improved upon. I am probably one of the leading teachers on commonwealth matters. So, I moved from the point of view of practical knowledge and also from the standpoint of scholarly world.

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