People’s Daily, Beijing, October 26, 2005
COMESA, EU differ on economic partnership agreement
Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) countries have differed with the European Commission (EC) on the development agenda of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) currently under negotiations.
COMESA Chief Technical Advisor on EPAs Moses Tekere told journalists Tuesday in Zambian capital Lusaka that the two parties have failed to agree because the EC is insisting on tying development assistance to "certain conditions."
This follows a two-day second meeting of senior officials from the EC and COMESA on the negotiations.
"We have failed to agree on how to carry out development within the EPAs because they are saying we need to put in place good policies, good regulatory framework and the rule of law before they can finance development in the region," Tekere said.
He said another meeting is expected to be held next year in Zimbabwe before coming up with a final agreement on how development is going to be tied to the EPAs.
He also said there has been a hitch on the opening up of markets by COMESA countries for European products on a reciprocal basis. While countries in the region are allowed to export to Europe duty free and quota free, this is not happening for European products.
According to Tekere, the EC has insisted that countries in the region need to open up their markets so that products from Europe could enter without any restrictions.
"But we have said that we cannot open up because this is going to affect our products. As you know European products are subsidized and allowing them to enter without any restrictions will be detrimental to our economic growth," he said.
However, Tekere said the region was only willing to open up markets for certain products and on a gradual basis. He said the region intended to take an assessment of which products could be allowed without any restrictions.
COMESA Secretary General Erastus Mwencha said preparations for the negotiations had to take into account the needs of individual countries in the region as well as of the region as a whole through impact assessment studies.
He said the region’s intention is to see EPAs incorporating a strong development dimension to the current duty-free and quota- free market access for all products.
"This is what we see as part of the positive contribution of EPAs to the existing market access terms," he said.
The negotiations were initially launched in February last year following the coming to an end of the first agreement. The negotiations are expected to end in December 2007 when the agreement is expected to be signed.
COMESA is Africa’s largest economic integration group, with its 20 member states boasting a total population of 385 million. Trade volume between EU and COMESA currently stands at 25 billion US dollars a year, according to the bloc’s statistics.