Pierre Moussa, President, CEMAC Commission: Interview

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Pierre Moussa, President, CEMAC Commission

Interview: Pierre Moussa

What do current economic partnership agreement (EPA) negotiations with the EU entail?

PIERRE MOUSSA: The ongoing EPA negotiations between the EU and CEMAC are a result of findings published in the EU’s “Green Papers”, which showed that the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) had not fully benefited from non-reciprocal preferential trade arrangements. The primary reasons for this were identified as a lack of production capacity and the non-compliance of African products intended for exports with EU norms. The non-reciprocal framework also opposed the non-discrimination clause included in the Marrakesh Agreement, which culminated in the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Under the new policy, the WTO accorded CEMAC member states a derogation of six years to conclude new negotiations with the EU. During this period no agreement was made, and thus the reciprocity rule was automatically implemented between the two blocks.

The EU has negotiated several agreements with African nations, including Cameroon, where a stepping stone agreement was signed in 2009. This partnership, which intends to progressively liberalise Customs tariffs, negatively impacted our achievement in regards to regional Customs unions. In parallel, the EU’s “Everything But Arms” initiative gives less developed countries (LDC) access to EU markets without restrictions. As a result, countries which cannot afford to lower their trade barriers, like Chad, already have non-reciprocal agreements with their EU counterparts. Fearing the elimination of Customs tariffs, LDCs would need to be compensated, or mechanisms should be put in place to make up for losses in Customs revenues.

Aside from commodities such as oil, wood or metals, the region has one of the lowest export volumes to EU countries. Feasibility studies have shown that the lowering of trade barriers with CEMAC countries would not provide enough impetus for the EU to cope financially with the necessary support measures towards LDCs. The dilemma entails coming up with a WTO-compatible solution, which will preserve our integration efforts and support LDCs. In this context, we believe that stepping-stone agreements, which address matters related to the rate of liberalisation, transitional periods, funding of support programmes and fiscal compensation, could serve as the basis for further negotiations. A concessional regional proposal – which includes Cameroon – has been elaborated, and has been transmitted to the EU for further negotiations

What are the main challenges hampering integration efforts for CEMAC countries?

MOUSSA: We must admit that CEMAC countries are among the most isolated of the ACP. The free circulation of goods and people between member states is not assured, and thus efforts to open up are greater than for other regions. This structural challenge stems from a lack of transport infrastructure, administrative hurdles and lack of synergies between countries. The region’s rugged topography of mountains, valleys, rivers and marshes is in direct correlation with the cost of building roads and the degradation of transport networks. Administrative hurdles, resulting from the large number of road blocks and checkpoints within countries, and exacerbated by the large distances between urban areas, also contribute to cost of logistics and long travel times. These systematic and punitive actions stunt the development of intra-regional trade, which could otherwise develop in par with the new construction of roads – most notably in Gabon. Indeed, efforts must be made to increase awareness among the relevant authorities, in regards to the free circulation of goods and people moving within the block. The low levels of interdependency between CEMAC members have also prioritised international trade above regional synergies. Given our deficit in industrial capacity, member countries are not producing any meaningful products with commercial value compared to their neighbours.

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