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Under Pressure, Cameroon Ratifies Economic Partnership Accords

After several years of feet-dragging motivated in part by stanch opposition from the civil society and economic watchdogs, Cameroon has finally buckled to ratify the voluntary economic partnership accord with the European Union.

A decision signed by President Paul Biya and dated May 30, has endorsed the treaty which guarantees duty free access of some of the country’s goods to the EU market space.  Reciprocally, some Cameroon-bound made-in-Europe products will also benefit customs duty exemptions.

“Cameroon has ratified the accord almost at gunpoint.  It had no choice if you consider the loads of pressure the EU has been mounting on the country.  So, you are correct in insinuating that the accord has been forced down the country’s throat,” Jean Christian Akam, Executive Secretary of the Citizens’ Association for the Defense of Collective Interests, ACDIC, suggested.

Since last year, the EU has been brandishing threats and ultimatums in the direction of African, Caribbean and Pacific [ACP] countries who would not have signed the voluntary economic partnership accords by a January 1 2014 deadline.  The new accords, hatched in 2007 are contained in a revised version of the Cotonou Convention and stipulate free entry of some products from ACP countries into the EU market.

“In other words, cocoa, banana, aluminum and other products from Cameroon will continue to enjoy duty-free access to Europe.  If Cameroon did not ratify the treaty, exporters will have to pay huge amounts in customs duties from January 2014.  But on the other hand, Cameroon will virtually be transformed into a counter for European goods.  Locally produced goods cannot match those from Europe in terms of quality and so local industries will crumble if they don’t sit up,” Akam argued.

Similar standpoints by economists and the civil society contributed in Cameroon’s long-drawn-out reluctance to ink the agreement.  Sustained EU pressure initially culminated in the country’s signing of an interim economic partnership accord in January 2009.  The decision, reached unilaterally drew prevalent denunciation from critics and proponents of a collective sub-regional signing of the accord.

Briefly, the condemnations paid off as ongoing negotiations deadlocked.  Experts argued that the Central Africa sub-region needed to develop its industrial fabric, as well as seek ways of cushioning eventual customs revenue losses before the deal could be wholeheartedly embraced.  The standoff interrupted the negotiations for about a year, as the EU quietly brainstormed on how to better bully ACP countries.

But during an inter-ministerial committee meeting charged with negotiating the economic partnership accords in the capital Yaoundé last April, government officials exuded the impression Cameroon could no longer withstand the EU pressure.  “The EU is multiplying pressure on us.  We have no choice than to update the capacities of our industries to be able to stand up to the challenge when customs barriers will be lifted,” Economy, Planning and Territorial Development Minister, Emmanuel Nganou Djoumessi hinted.

His utterances came barely days after Parliament; meeting for its March 2012 session adopted a bill authorizing the President of the Republic to ratify the voluntary economic partnership accord between Cameroon and the EU.

Divine Ntaryike Jr| June 7, 2012 | post Online

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