Ivory Coast to ratify interim trade deal with EU this month

Ivory Coast plans to ratify an interim economic trade pact with the European Union by the end of the month even though a regional deal, approved in 2014, has yet to be signed by all the countries of the West African economic bloc, a minister said.

An Ivorian parliamentary foreign affairs committee unanimously voted on Wednesday to allow President Alassane Ouattara to ratify the agreement, which will reduce trade barriers between the West African nation and the EU, Ally Coulibaly, Ivory Coast’s minister for African integration, said by phone on Thursday from Abidjan, the commercial capital.

A second vote will take place on Friday with all members of parliament as the world’s largest producer of cocoa beans aims to ratify the pact by the end of the month, Coulibaly said. Ivory Coast needs to complete the deal, signed in 2008 but never implemented, by Oct. 1 or it will lose its preferential access to the euro region, he said.

“The regional agreement is more advantageous for us but as it hasn’t been signed by all the countries yet, we’ll make do with our interim deal,” Coulibaly said. “Otherwise, we’ll lose our duty-free access to the EU, where we ship our production of cocoa, banana, tuna and wood.”

Ivory Coast exports to the EU totaled 3.7 billion euros ($3 billion) in 2015, while imports amounted to 2.7 billion euros, according to E.U. data.

The 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States and Mauritania reached an agreement with the EU in 2014 to implement a so-called Economic Partnership Agreement. That would give duty- and quota-free access to the EU for all exports, while the African countries would in turn open their markets to selected EU imports. Nigeria, Gambia and Mauritania have yet to sign the deal, Coulibaly said.

“We’ll pursue our efforts so that all the countries sign the regional agreement but we couldn’t wait,” he said. “If we don’t ratify the interim deal, our economy will be impacted.”

About a third of Ivory Coast’s total exports will be affected if the country doesn’t ratify the interim agreement, Stephane Aka Anghui, deputy cabinet director at the ministry for African integration, said by phone on Thursday. Among goods that would lose duty-free access are cocoa paste, cocoa butter, bananas and tuna, he said. Without the deal, tuna shipments would be taxed as much as 20 percent, cocoa paste about 6 percent and cocoa butter about 4 percent.

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