The charge d’affaires of the European Commission Delegation Marc De Bruyker said yesterday at the official opening of a two day information seminar on Economic Partnership Agreement in Freetown that the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) is a midium for change for Sierra Leone. He also stated that it would help the government of Sierra Leone to move from a system of tax collection that is excessively reliant on high import duties to a system that relies on domestic taxes , like the General Services Tax that was adopted two weeks ago.
This reduction he said would be progressive over 15 to 20 years within which period Sierra Leone would be given enough time to modernize and improve its tax administration.
The outcome of the progressive migration from one system to another is that the private sector will greatly benefit from cheaper imports like machinery and chemicals.
He stated that the EU has also proposed to include infant industry clause in the EPA , which allows countries to employ safeguard measures to protect its nascent industries, like the EPA between Caribbean and EU.
He added that by providing a legal framework for foreign direct investment and a broader environment of respect for the Rule Of Law , it will encourage investors to come in and develop Sierra Leone’s weak industry sector.
He remarked that the philosophy of EPA is to change the relationship between West African countries and the EU from one of dependency to one of mutual trade partners. That he went on would change it from one that offers tariff preferences to one that builds a lasting regional market for West Africa and Sierra Leone.
He noted the whole programme has common endeavour with the same interest towards the development of West Africa by increasing the trade links between the ECOWAS countries and the European Union.He also stated that the principle of establishing an Economic Partnership Agreement was accepted in the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific ACP countries in order to change 30 years of trade preferences that have failed to develop big regions of the world , notably West African economies.
In his remarks the minister of Trade Industry and State Enterprises David Carew acknowledged the level of advancement in the negotiation of EPA noting that the head of Summit Of The West directed that the final EPA should be signed by 30th June 2009. On 17 June 2009, the EU and West African negotiators met in Brussels and agreed to conclude a regional agreement to be reached by October 2009. The agreement would cover trade in goods , trade rules and development cooperation. It is therefore important that , Sierra Leone uses this extension to ensure that negotiations address the country’s key concerns and development needs.
The minister of Trade went on to explain that the government through his ministry has been committed to the EPA negotiations since 2002. He said trade is a cross sectoral issue and a key tool to the development of Sierra Leone and his ministry now deemed it fit that the draft reports on the national EPA development should be reviewed and assessed by all stakeholders including government institutions, the private sector and the civil society.
The Deputy Minister of Finance , Development and Economic Planing Richard Konteh gave a statement on the implementation , state of play of the EPA process , agreement , areas of divergence among others .
The occassion was chaired by Alhaji Mohamed Fofana who stressed the importance of trade in fostering growth and development which he said has been the basis for EU and Africa,Caribbean and the Pacific ACP Cooperation under successive Lome Conventions as well as the subsequent Cotonou Agreement signed with 77 ACP countries in 2000
By Solomon Rogers