West Africa plans to ask the European Union for a two-year delay to a planned economic partnership agreement (EPA), leaders said at a summit on Friday, but the EU's executive Commission ruled out a postponement.

Brussels hopes to negotiate far-reaching EPAs with six regions in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) to come into force by January 1 2008.

But the EU's negotiating plans have run into opposition from some developing countries who say they require them to open up too much of their economies to European competition.

"We reckon that we are not yet ready and we are asking for a delay of two years to organise ourselves better," Jean de Dieu Somda, minister-delegate for regional cooperation of Burkina Faso, which hosted a summit of heads of state from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) on Friday, told Reuters.

The EU's proposed EPAs are designed to replace the existing Cotonou Agreement, signed in Benin in 2000, which allows ACP countries -- many of them former European colonies -- preferential export access to the bloc.

European officials say the new agreements will boost growth and spur development. But opponents say they threaten farmers and industries in poor countries which are ill equipped to compete, thereby increasing poverty.
from M&G here