Sixteen West African states are to sign a trade deal with the European Union in a move that opens up full duty-free access for more countries.

The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) covers the EU states and the following countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Under the terms of the deal, the EU will provide West African companies with more advantageous conditions than those applying to European exports to Africa.

The EU has committed to open its market to all West African products once the agreement comes into force, in return for the “partial and gradual” opening of the West African market.

West Africa will be allowed to continue to shield its agricultural sector from European competition by retaining tariffs or, when necessary, imposing safeguards – and the EU will not subsidise any agricultural exports to West Africa.

“We are building a privileged economic partnership with West Africa that will be a foundation of long-term growth and future prosperity in a region that is so close to Europe,” said European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht.

“To help the EPA deliver its promise for development, the EU and West Africa need to implement this deal as soon as possible.”