West African heads of state and government are meeting for a two-day summit beginning Friday in Ivory Coast to resolve issues regarding a decade of trade discussions with the European Union (EU).
Officials of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) say the leaders will discuss an economic partnership agreement with EU and a number of other issues such as review regional security and the upcoming elections in Guinea Bissau.
ECOWAS communications director Sonny Ugoh said West African leaders will seek to address concerns about the free trade agreement with the EU.
How to create equality in European trade
“They will be discussing the economic partnership agreement they have been discussing with the EU to create a free trade area for both regions that have been going for 10-12 years.
"They will also be discussing the issue of maritime security,” said Ugoh.
Some West Africans are expressing concerns about the economic partnership agreement with the EU. Skeptics say it will be to the region’s disadvantage and unlikely to improve the lives of citizens.They argue it is unfair because West African states will be exporting inexpensive raw materials and will still have to import expensive goods and services from Europe.
“Understandably - because the discussions have been protracted - there have been a variety of perspectives. But, I can assure you that negotiations that are going on are on the basis of the assessment of what is best for member states, because member states are active in the process,” said Ugoh.
“Whatever decision that will come out of the summit, you can be sure that it will be to the best interest of the region, and member states,” he said.
A new chairman, Guinea's national elections
Ugoh said high on the agenda is the need to select new ECOWAS leadership. The term of the current chairman, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, expires this year.
“They will be electing a new chairman to replace President Ouattara who will be handing over after a very fruitful and illustrious and successful leadership of the community,” he said.
Ugoh says the leaders will also focus on Guinea Bissau’s elections scheduled for next month. ECOWAS member states raised about $20 million dollars to help the country administer its poll.
“As part of the security review in the region, and for the elections in Guinea Bissau, they will also discuss to see how that [election] will go on,” said Ugoh.
“Member states pledged funds to support Guinea Bissau to make sure that they have an election that is transparent that is free and fair that meets that standards for our democratic governance and that will enable Guinea Bissau to turn a new leaf.”
West Africa's drug trafficking troubles
The U.S. and EU have long charged that West African states are being used as transit points to traffic drugs from South America to Europe and beyond. Ugoh says regional leaders are working with their counterparts in West Africa to combat the menace.
“Member states have been working to see how they can resolve it both bilaterally and with foreign partners,” said Ugoh. “We have a plan of action under which we…address the key issues that turned West Africa at one point into a transit zone for drugs.”
Clottey interview with Sonny Ugoh, ECOWAS' Communications director