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Viwanou Gnassounou: “The EPAs will be absorbed into the AfCFTA”

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Brussels, 13 November 2019/ACP: “The European Union (EU) has provided new financial instruments for ACP countries’ private sector, but there must be synergy among all actors, to boost the market,” says Viwanou Gnassounou, Assistant Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States. The senior official spoke to Financial Afrik on the margins of the ACP Private Sector Development Information, Knowledge Sharing and Networking Forum, which took place in Dakar, Senegal, from 6 to 8 November 2019.
 
Can you remind us of the objective of this ACP-EU Forum? 
 
We sought to bring together private sector actors and persons who make decisions regarding the ethics governing intra-ACP European funds, to present to them, over these 3 days, the new private sector financing instruments developed over the last four years. We have developed a new private sector support strategy, to give new impetus to our countries’ socio-economic development. So, we are going to the private sector to present it with the results of our consultations and jointly approve these new means for supporting it. Ultimately, the essential aim of the meeting is to have inclusive dialogue that validates the instruments, so that we can access these resources and possibly provide guidance. 
 
What is the reason for this networking between African private sectors and those of the Caribbean and the Pacific?
 
This networking can be attributed to the dynamism seen on the international market. If you take a look today, there are major trade agreements between the countries of the North, in particular countries in Europe, America, and Asia. The countries of the South must also be able to ensure that their markets develop. When we buy certain products, we need inputs that must sometimes come from abroad.  We may not find these inputs in Africa, but in the Caribbean. You know, that region is to a certain degree, the African Diaspora. And the same can be said of the Pacific. The ACP Group was created 45 years ago. 
 
It is this recognition that made it necessary to ensure that these Afro-descendants remain united and work not only in ethical and cultural terms, but also in economic terms. So, it is this economic dimension that we are currently materialising, and we have ensured that, region by region, we have dialogue.
 
Is this initiative a part of the regional reinforcement framework between the EU and ACP countries?
 
Of course. We have a long-standing Agreement, which was signed in Cotonou in 2000, between the ACP Group and the European Union (EU). This Agreement has enabled us to mobilise approximately €100 billion. The most recent Agreement covers financing for the period 2014/2020, with an allocation of over €35 billion to support the development of our countries.Once both the EU and our States recognise the key role of the private sector,  our cooperation, which dates back many years, will then be able to ensure that specific resources are dedicated to the private sector. 
 
Can you expand on the progress of the Economic Partnership Agreements?
 
The economic partnership has evolved in different ways, according to the region. Some regions have signed and begun implementation. Others, like West Africa, have faced some challenges. There are countries that initialled the Agreement but that are not yet ready to sign for implementation. Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire have begun to implement the EPAs, fearing that failure to ratify would jeopardise their exports to the EU. We are currently in discussions to ensure that we have a complete agreement at the regional level. And we will make sure that each country in the region gets the assistance it needs to be able to move forward and sign. We cannot force any country to sign, because each country has its own interests. 
 
What is at stake for the EPAs and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)? 
 
The EPAs will be gradually absorbed into the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), because we cannot have a Free Trade Area at the regional level, and borders at the African continental level.
 
It is therefore important for the EPAs to be consolidated and for them to facilitate a customs union in West Africa. The other unions must also be consolidated, so that we can remove the barriers in five blocs. It is easier to remove barriers in five main regional blocs than to remove them in 54 African States. So this is why we continue to encourage the formation of the regional groups, to then move on to the opening of borders, in order to make the AfCFTA effective.
 
According to some analyses, the African private sector is not truly playing its role in the process of creating added value
 
The African private sector, as I said earlier, knows how to seize opportunities, when they find these interesting. Today, there are constraints preventing the private sector from moving forward in terms of legal security, guarantees, and project viability. 
 
This is why we speak of a mixed approach using public and private funds. Our role is to ensure that public funds, which are in fact subventions, are used to prepare private investments.
 
 We will work (that is why the private sector is here with us) to mitigate the risk factors perceived by the private sector, which are real risk factors.
 
What is your outlook for Africa?
 
The outlook is positive, of course. As you know, Africa is a young and growing continent. It has a huge market that is developing. We must ensure that this potential becomes a reality. And we cannot do this unless we develop national, regional, and continental champions. If we do not do this, others will do it in our place. Large multinationals will come here, but while they are coming, we also want to be able to develop our private sectors. 
 
Interview conducted by Ibrahima Junior Dia
 


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