Cameroon has accepted an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union on the dismantling of customs barriers, even though it told members of a regional bloc it would hold out for a better deal.
Cameroon's decision to accept an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union puts it at loggerheads with the five other members of Central African Economic and Monentary Community (CEMAC), which are Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
A week ago, CEMAC leaders met in Malabo, capital of Equatorial Guinea, and the consensus was that they would only sign an agreement that was fair and balanced. But on August 4, Cameroon reneged on the deal and ratified its existing draft EPA.
Civil society activist Jean Paul Fouda told university students in Yaounde that "Cameroon is a shameless state in Central Africa, since it has betrayed other nations."
He said Cameroon earns 600 billion CFA francs ($1 billion, 895 million euros) in customs duties every year and "President Paul Biya is asking us not to collect the revenue from the Europeans? Let's be serious," Fouda added.
Lawmaker Njong Evaristus told DW that Cameroon's budget depends on customs duties and the country was at disadvantage compared to the EU. "We don't have developed industries that are up to a level that they can compete with industries in Europe," he said. A trade imbalance was more or less inevitable. "We are a country that is dealing with agricultural products and the rest and they are dealing with goods that are already finalized goods."
Tabe Nkongho, an economist at the University of Buea, is suspicious of the EPA. If it really is going to benefit Africa and Cameroon, as its supporters claim, why then do they feel the need to push so hard for its adoption. Nkongho believes the EPA is a drive in favor of the "capitalist mode of production which benefits the capitalist states but not the peripheral states in the world economy."
African countries were given until October 2014 to ratify EPAs, otherwise the preferential treatment their exports were already receiving on European markets would be suspended. Emmanuel Nganou Ndjoumessi, a former economy minister and now minister of works, was on the negotiating team that secured an extension of the deadline until August 1, 2016. He said Cameroon ratified the agreement in order to continue selling its goods without paying customs duties.
"We have been selling to the European Union without paying customs duties and, as a consequence, we could easily sell our bananas, chocolates, beans and so on," Ndjoumessi said.
Douala Port handles most of Cameroon's exports such as oil, cocoa and coffee, timber, metals and fruit
Francoise Collet, head of the EU delegation to Cameroon, said she was urging other central African states to ratify their EPAs as well. They could help protect their poor populations by liberalizing their economies. One of the goals of the EPAs was to encourage African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to negotiate with the EU in regional groupings rather than individually.
"It will be a safer environment for trade, for expanding trade between our regions and also within regions, that's one of our hopes. It's not only a trade agreement, it's a development agreement."
Critics doubt that EPAs are the solution to Africa's economic problems, believing instead that they subjugate ACP economies to the needs of European capital.