Expectations that small scale farmers within the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS would soon begin to export their agricultural produce to the United Kingdom under a post-Brexit trade deal may prove unrealisable, as Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have commenced secret bilateral trade negotiations with the UK, which may bungle the deal.

Under the proposed new deal with the 16-member nations, ECOWAS is looking towards the possibility of empowering small scale farmers in the region to supply agricultural produce to the UK when it eventually quits the European Union any time soon.

The partnership was expected to enable the UK bridge its food supply gaps, as statistics show that in 2019, it only supplied 55per cent; a little above half of its domestic food consumption and also help the African farmers to earn foreign currencies.

Also recall that both countries had before now bungled a similar trade deal between the ECOWAS and the European Union EU, which made a mess of the already signed Economic Partnership Agreement EPA, as it could not be implemented since many ECOWAS countries including Nigeria pulled out of the deal.

It was gathered that both countries are currently discussing secret bilateral trade agreements with the same UK unknown to the other 14-member states of the ECOWAS, which experts believe would undermine the ECOWAS-post Brexit UK deal as was the case with a similar deal signed between the EU and ECOWAS in December 2014.

President, National Association of Nigerian Traders NANTS, which comprises importers and exporters, Ken Ukoha, who confirmed the development, believes it is a bad omen for both the ECOWAS and the UK, especially given that a similar thing occurred in the case of ECOWAS-EU EPA of December 2014.

Describing the development as a sabotage and back stab against other ECOWAS member states, Ukoha, who is an international trade expert believes it would further hinder current efforts at enhancing integration among countries within the region, which is intended to make ECOWAS to become a strong economic bloc

“Recently, we have seen that Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have started negotiating bilateral trade agreements with the UK, which is annoyingly terrible. It is not only terrible, it is against the tenets of regional integration, against the letters and spirit of common trade agenda initiated by the ECOWAS.

“So it is a complete sell-out in the sense that all ECOWAS members have one Common External Tariff CET, which binds the 16-member nations and therefore, if any member wants to do something with a country outside the enclave, which is a third party, there must be an agreement of all the 16-member countries.

“But unfortunately, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana have slighted and sabotaged ECOWAS and the other 14-member countries. And this recalls exactly what happened during the EPA negotiations; while the other members of the ECOWAS were negotiating under one umbrella, this same Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire went behind and started negotiating interim bilateral EPAs with the EU to the extent that the ECOWAS-EU EPA cannot be implemented in West Africa.

On the way out of the quagmire, Ukoha believes that ECOWAS should apply heavy sanctions to deter other member states who might want to undermine the community in the future. He believes that Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, the same countries that scuttled the implementation of the EU-ECOWAS EPA are doing same with the UK because they were not sanctioned in the first place. But more importantly, according to him, Nigeria should wake up and assume her leadership position in the region, given the size of her economy and looming political influence in West Africa.

He also argued that if Nigeria was active in negotiating the deal, neither Ghana nor Cote d’Ivoire would betray the community.

He said: “I think lessons should be learnt and sanctions should also be applied. I think most importantly that Nigeria should needs to wake up this time, once beaten twice shy, that is the point and that is my position. They did it the first time and went away with it and that is why I said sanctions must be applied this time.

“There must be isolation and beyond this, there must be strict sanctions, comprehensive sanctions by the regional body should be applied because this is absolute non-sense. Going forward, ECOWAS should have to make it abundantly clear that Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have become saboteurs, we are no longer safe with these kind of community. Who knows what next they will go behind us to do; this is very dangerous.”

Recall that Nigeria’s President Muhammadu had in 2016 insisted that his country would not sign the EPA deal with the EU. The President had on April 9, 2018 told the new Ambassador of the EU, Ketil Iversen Karlsen, who came to present his letter of credence, that Nigeria was determined not to sign the EPA with the other West African countries. He repeated what he had already solemnly declared on February 3, 2016 at the Plenary Assembly of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, that the EPA would jeopardise the industrialisation of his country and the need to create millions of jobs for youths. who would otherwise be deprived of a future.

With this position, everyone knew the EPA would not work without Nigeria, given her strategic position within the ECOWAS bloc, as she accounts for over 72 per cent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product GDP and 52 per cent of its population as of 2016.