TRADE: Southern Africa Still Kicking Against Controversial EPA

  • by Servaas van den Bosch (windhoek)
  • Thursday, May 28, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

A week after the trade ministers of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Angola and Mozambique - the SADC-EPA configuration - met in Botswana’s capital there is still no clarity about the region’s position on a trade deal with the European Union (EU).

A signing ceremony in Brussels on May 7 was cancelled at the last minute because of apparent disagreement on the texts of joint declarations.

‘‘Two statements were prepared but neither could carry the full approval of all negotiating parties,’’ Joris Heeren, head of the trade section at the European Commission’s (EC) delegation in Namibia, told IPS. ‘‘SADC needs more time to internally talk about this matter.’’

One of the problematic passages in the texts reportedly mentioned that certain contentious issues would be further negotiated in the run-up to a full EPA without, however, exactly defining these.

Heeren puts the botched ceremony down to ‘‘miscommunication’’ rather than structural differences between the countries. ‘‘There is no disagreement that certain issues will be renegotiated in a full EPA. But it’s a missed chance because everyone was there. Now a new date will have to be set.’’

However, in a rare communiqué to the media Namibia’s permanent secretary of the ministry of trade and industry, Malan Lindeque, signals that the country has not made up its mind yet.

‘‘As you may be aware, the signing ceremony of the interim EPA that was scheduled for May 7, 2009 in Brussels was called off until further notice. For Namibia our internal consultative process with regard to the signing and ongoing EPA negotiations has not yet been finalised.’’

Meanwhile the Angolan press agency Angop reported that Angola’s minister of commerce, Idalina Valente, has sided with Namibia and South Africa, urging for an EPA based on ‘‘fairness, balance and consentaneous with Angola’s development agenda’’.

Angola is not a prospective signatory and is merely included with an eye on future collaboration. However, as part of the ANSA group (Angola, Namibia and South Africa) the oil-rich nation voiced strong reservations about the EPA in January.

South Africa has resisted concluding an EPA. The country will benefit from preferential tariffs under its separate trade, development and co-operation agreement (TDCA) with the EU until 2012.

So if ANSA sticks to their guns, a rift might emerge that splits both SACU and SADC.

A Namibian negotiator for the EPA, Alfred Ndabeni, tells IPS that: ‘‘The meeting in Gaborone was meant to brief and discuss the outcome of the Swakopmund meeting and to agree on the way forward.’’

In Swakopmund, in mid-March, parties reached an accord on the interim EPA but little progress has been made since then despite pressure from Brussels.

Namibia seems not keen on any agreement that excludes its most important trade partner South Africa. It also has strong ties with Angola, its northern neighbour.

On Europe Day, in a speech full of reminders of EU development aid over the years, EC Ambassador to Namibia Elisabeth Pape highlighted ‘‘the dynamic possibilities of radically improved access to a market of 500 million with relatively high purchasing power.

‘‘The real ‘music’ is, in my view, in the possibilities for new exports of goods and services opening up with the duty-free, quota-free access,’’ Pape said.

‘‘I believe that much more creative thinking is possible and necessary in this area with a view to fully exploit the possibilities in terms of investment, job creation, diversification of the economy and value-addition.’’

But Namibia’s foreign affairs minister Marco Hausiku at the same occasion reiterated that the ‘‘most favoured nation’’ clause (MFN) and the definition of parties (DoP) ‘‘will need a further round of negotiations in order to be resolved’’.

Under the MFN clause all trade benefits that the bloc agrees to with third parties are automatically extended to the EU. Fears are that the Europeans will access market openings that make sense in South-South trade but which would give the more developed EU economy an unfair advantage.

The DoP issue flows from EC’s desire to deal with all seven countries as a single group. This means the SACU countries would de facto have to include Angola and Mozambique in the customs area, a move that will undermine the regional integration achieved so far through SACU and SADC.

Another objection that has surfaced is the limited legal capacity of countries to take future trade disputes to the WTO.

‘‘At present only South Africa has the administrative machinery to implement trade remedies in terms of the applicable WTO rules,’’ Trade Law Centre for Southern Africa (Tralac) associate Gerhard Erasmus states on the organisation’s website.

As it is still unclear whether South Africa will join the agreement, states will need to ‘‘establish the necessary domestic frameworks and develop the technical capacity to deal with the associated challenges,’’ writes Erasmus. ‘‘They will have to do so in time to be available when this EPA becomes operational.’’

The position of Namibia is pivotal in the negotiating process, as SACU article 31.3 prevents members of entering into trade agreements on their own.

In 2007 the EU threatened African countries with the loss of market access for existing export products if they did not sign the interim EPAs. This led to the initialing of the interim EPA by all southern African states except South Africa. Now, however, the countries have committed themselves to sticking together.

The EU wants to sign the interim EPA and take the contentious issues up in the negotiations for a full EPA, which the European Parliament wants concluded by the end of the year.

The EU has alleged that it is under pressure to make preferential tariff provisions under its Cotonou trade agreement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions compliant with WTO regulations or face a challenge from other WTO members.

Those opposed to the EPAs have retorted that the EU’s push to include services and other ‘‘new issues’’ has nothing to do with WTO compliance and is in fact an attempt to sneak proposals through at bilateral level that were defeated at the WTO.

Resistance to the trade agreement has been widespread. Earlier this month the Economic Community of West African States declared it was ‘‘no longer realistic’’ to sign an EPA with the EU before a June 30 deadline.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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