A representative of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture Mrs Claudia Thomas has urged the government not to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) until a number of issues are clarified.
That is, the alternatives to the EPA should be exhaustively studied by government in close partnership with the chamber; with a view to minimizing the adverse impact of these developments on a weak economy with acute pressures of social and economic stress.
She added that as part of this review, a nationally commissioned Economic Impact Assessment should be swiftly undertaken to provide a credible basis for collective decision-making.
This, she said, the chamber was willing to be an active participants in this process.
The chamber of commerce’s representative, who was addressing participants yesterday at a two-day conference at the Cabenda Hotel conference room said, “the government is at the verge of signing an agreement with the EU that will grant EU companies substantially free duty and tax access to the Sierra Leone market”.
She disclosed that, “Sierra Leone is the second vulnerable country in the world according to the United Nations Human Development Index; and is struggling to rebuild its economic base in a post-conflict environment with decimated human, financial, infrastructural, governance and organizational resources”.
Continuing she noted that, “we cannot by definition enter into an economic partnership on an equal basis with the second most powerful economic grouping in the world- the EU”.
Mrs Thomas intimated that the chamber of commerce believed that the EPA might lead to the closure of the remaining manufacturing and value added sectors of the economy with adverse effects on jobs, purchasing power, exposure to inflationary pressures and economic stress.
The representative revealed that EPA might undesirably increase the dependency of the government on donor funding and lead to increase in direct income taxes on hard pressed tax payers.
The deputy minister of trade and industry, Ms Mabinty Daramy, pointed out that the EU was attempting to tie the trade knots with Africa through the EPA negotiations.
She noted that in modern times, this attempt at standardization and regulation had resulted in the creation of global mechanisms such as the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and its more recent successor, the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The deputy minister averred that, “Africans are wary that liberalizing trade to the level of the EPA might reduce the productive capacity of African industries and agriculture”.
She urged African leaders to negotiate well, such that Africa’s capacity was built to a level where African exports could make discernible impact in the west.
Dr Richard Conteh, the deputy minister of finance, development and economic planning said reviewing the status of the EPA negotiations; West Africa observed that the conditions for concluding the negotiations by December 31 would not be met.
He added that West Africa considered that the stepping stone EPA proposed by the European party could not be realized within the set deadline and would not foster development.
The executive director for the Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD), Abu Brima who gave a perspective on behalf of civil society, said one of the obvious implications of reciprocity in the EPA was that ECOWAS countries would have to open up their economies to imports from Europe.