/UPDATE*/TRADE: ‘‘You can’t smoke cigars in Brussels and bulldoze us’’

  • by Servaas van den Bosch (windhoek)
  • Inter Press Service

‘‘We are not being recalcitrant,’’ said Geingob during a press briefing in Namibia’s capital Windhoek on May 29.

‘‘We are children of international solidarity. South-South trade is important to us. We feel that the issue of the most favoured nation (MFN) clause can easily be overcome, for instance by dropping the demand of an ‘automatic’ extension of trade preferences.

'All we ask for now is that the contentious issues that came out during the meeting in Swakopmund in March are incorporated in the texts of the interim EPA but the EU has simply said ‘no’ to that.

‘‘The EU says that they cannot change the texts because it’s too much work to prepare new translations. That’s really a lame excuse,’’ fumed Geingob. ‘‘Instead of consulting us, they informed us that there was a date for signing – May 7. That’s not how you deal with partners.

‘‘We might be small, but we are still a sovereign state. You cannot smoke cigars in boardrooms in Brussels and bulldoze us.’’

Geingob denied there was a split in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

‘‘We met in Gaborone last week to rescue the unity in SADC and agreed that those that want to sign can go ahead. Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique will sign. The ANSA-countries (Angola, Namibia and South Africa) equally get space to iron out some issues with the EU.

‘‘We are not playing games here. The EPA is important for our agricultural sector and, unlike Angola, that benefits under the Everything but Arms (EBA) agreement for least developed countries and South Africa that has the Trade, Development and Co-operation Agreement (TDCA), we need this partnership.

‘‘However, we are genuinely worried and want our concerns reflected in an amendment. I promise that as soon as this happens I will go to cabinet and say ‘let’s go and sign this interim EPA’.’’

Joris Heeren, head of the trade section at the European Commission’s (EC) delegation in Namibia, had earlier told IPS about the May 7 signing ceremony that, ‘‘two statements were prepared but neither could carry the full approval of all negotiating parties. 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.’’

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.

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 MFN clause 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. (*Adds reaction from Namibian government. Story first posted on May 28.)

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