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Calls for Namibia not to sign interim-EPA hold merit, says analyst

Engineering News | 27th July 2009

Calls for Namibia not to sign interim-EPA hold merit, says analyst

By: Christy van der Merwe

A number of Namibian civil society organisations, as well as the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI), have supported the government’s decision not to sign the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (I-EPA) with the European Union (EU), amid concerns that it caused discord among Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) member States.

“The calls from Namibian civil society organisations and the NCCI for the government not to sign the interim agreement at this stage hold more than merit,” said Namibian independent trade policy analyst Wallie Roux in an article in the Namibia-based newspaper New Era.

Roux noted the complex history of the negotiations surrounding the EPAs and I-EPAs, as well as Namibian Trade and Industry Minister Dr Hage Geingob’s said reluctance to sign the EPAs on the basis that, in their current form, the EPAs directly affect the country’s future South-South trade and cooperation, as well as its regional integration efforts.

European Trade Commissioner spokesperson, Lütz Güellner, was said to have countered Geingob’s comments, stating concerns over the ambiguity of Namibia towards the I-EPA and a possible legal challenge to end the country’s current ‘duty-free quota-free’ market access to EU markets.

This was of concern for Namibian business owners, which export to the EU, particularly beef exporters supplying German markets.

Recently, Botswana Trade and Industry Minister Daniel Neo Moroka explained why Botswana had signed the I-EPAs, and noted that the country wished to protect its commercial interests considering the country’s major exports of beef and diamonds were destined largely for EU markets.

He noted that reverting to the generalised system of preference (GSP), and losing preferential access into the EU could mean a loss of income of some P500-million, which would have an adverse social impact on about 600 000 people in Botswana.

On June 4, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (BLS) signed the I-EPA, and Mozambique signed on June 15. Namibia, South Africa and Angola did not sign.

“This provisional application will cause discrepancies in the Sacu common external tariff. Also, given the non-resolution of the Most favoured Nation (MFN) clause, should Sacu extend better terms in a trade agreement to a third party, the BLS countries will have to extend the same to the EU. This will lead to further discrepancies in the Sacu common external tariff,” noted Roux.

Prior to the signing, negotiations took place in Swakopmund from March 9 to March 12.

Referring to these EPA negotiations, Roux said that the agreement was reached on draft texts concerning quantitative restrictions, food security, free circulation of goods, export taxes and infant industry protection. No agreement was reached on the MFN clause and the Definition of the Parties. Despite the draft texts on the five issues, one still requires European Commission (EC) agreement, while another is subjected to a joint review of customs legislation and procedures.

“Despite the Swakopmund ‘agreed’ texts, 19 other articles remain unresolved in the I-EPA text. Some of the essential outstanding articles include: regional integration, agricultural safeguard measures, and transitional arrangements, as well as four articles on customs duties, cooperation and procedures. The EC only wants to discuss these in the negotiations towards a full EPA, despite having a profound influence on the interim EPA text,” explained Roux.

He added that the EC made it clear that the Swakopmund ‘agreed’ EPA texts would only be incorporated into the final EPA, thus giving it a non-legal status in the interim EPA. “Instead the EC opted for the adoption of two declarations that only refer to the Swakopmund ‘agreed’ texts, yet again giving it an uncertain legal status.”

The EU’s refusal to Namibia, South Africa and Angola’s requests to amend the I-EPA or to annex a statement with the said concerns to the agreement, was the issue.

“This unfortunate development has moved the EPA negotiations beyond the point of determining whether an interim EPA or full EPA would be beneficial for the Southern African countries. At this time the decisive factor is about legal coverage in case of a dispute with the EU. This is a sad state of affairs given that the original ’partnership agreement’ as contained in the Cotonou Agreement is no longer at play,” said Roux.
Edited by: Mariaan Webb

 source: Engineering News