New Era, Namibia
EPA negotiations postponed again
18 July 2013
By Edgar Brandt
WINDHOEK - The European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, says the EU wants local industries to benefit from the trade agreement and to create added value and jobs.
De Gucht visited Namibia on Tuesday to continue negotiations on the protracted Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The Ministry of Trade and Industry, at the forefront of the talks, says Namibia will only sign an agreement in the long-term interest of the country. The extremely complex negotiations started in 2000 and should have been concluded in December 2007, which was the date when the World Trade Organisation’s waiver to the EU to provide non-reciprocal access to African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries would have expired.
Faced with the threat of loss of preferential market access into the EU market at the end of December 2007, many ACP countries signed the interim EPAs. However, Namibia opted not to sign an interim EPA given that the country’s negotiators identified outstanding issues that would have eroded policy space.
Trade between the EU and Namibia has grown at a rate of more than 200 percent over the past ten years. During this time, Namibia has maintained a solid trade surplus with the EU, and in 2012, bilateral trade between the two entities was worth 2 billion Euros (approximately N$25.8 billion).
"It goes without saying that the conclusion of the EPA is key for our trade relations. Namibia currently enjoys free access to the EU market. Namibian products, if industrial or agricultural, do not pay duties at the EU’s borders and are not subject to quotas. But this regime is based on a temporary instrument, which will end on 1 October 2014," explained De Gucht following a meeting of close to two hours with Prime Minister Dr Hage Geingob and the Minister of Trade and Industry, Calle Schlettwein. De Gucht stressed that Namibia would not be eligible for preferential treatment for its exports to the EU after October 2014, unless it ratifies an EPA.
"Sub-Saharan Africa is now one of the fastest growing regions in the world, while the EU, with 500 million consumers, is the biggest market in the world. There are great opportunities to be seized on both sides,” said De Gucht. "EPAs can provide a framework for deeper trade ties between the EU and Africa, whose geographical proximity can be turned into a distinct commercial advantage by way of trade and job creation. I hope this visit will deepen the dialogue on the EPAs and address other issues of mutual interest such as the multilateral trade talks," he said.
Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are negotiating a regional Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) EPA Group, which also includes Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland. During his visit De Gucht requested an improved offer from the SADC negotiating team that he could present to EU member states.
De Gucht was confident that once he presents an improved offer to the EU the political will would be found to finalise the protracted negotiations.
Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Permanent Secretary Dr Malan Lindeque noted that while some progress has been made in negotiations, the ideal situation would be for Namibia to negotiate a win-win agreement. “We are looking forward to the next round of negotiations in September this year. Maybe it will be the last opportunity to resolve the outstanding issues,” Lindeque said.
According to De Gucht the EU has already expressed its readiness to offer measures for the protection of infant industries, as well as food security safeguards. De Gucht will also be travelling to Kenya (part of the Eastern African Community, EAC) and Botswana and South Africa to discuss ways to strengthen trade and investment relations with the various African regions, in particular through comprehensive trade and development partnerships.
The three southern African countries are rich in natural resources and export diamonds, uranium, platinum and other commodities to the EU. They are strong exporters in sectors such as beef (Namibia, Botswana), fisheries (Namibia) and table grapes (Namibia). The EU in turn exports a wide range of goods to the SADC EPA Group countries, including vehicles, machinery, electrical equipment, pharmaceuticals and processed food. All in all, trade between the EU and the SADC EPA Group is dominated by exchanges with South Africa, the biggest economy on the continent.