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EU Backs Down On EPA Deadline

Namibian, Namibia

EU Backs Down On EPA Deadline

By Jo-Maré Duddy

18 September 2012

Namibia, and other ACP countries, are celebrating a victory in trade negotiations after the European Parliament voted to extend the deadline for the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union from January 2014 to January 2016.

All that is left is for the European Council to endorse the European Parliament’s decision. This, trade experts believe, will be a mere formality.

"Things are looking very positive indeed," Swapo parliamentarian Piet van der Walt said yesterday from Belgium. Van der Walt, who has been leading Namibia’s EPA negotiations through the forum of the African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) countries, said the decision was taken at the European Parliament’s sitting last Thursday.

The vote has been welcomed widely, with ACP secretary general Mohamed Ibn Chambas describing it as "prudent".

"The European Parliament has shown wise political judgement in extending the period for negotiation of EPAs to January 1 2016," Chambas said in a statement on the ACP’s website.

The European Parliament’s vote means that Namibia no longer needs to fear the European Commission’s (EC) threat that the country will lose duty- and quota-free access to EU markets for local beef, grapes and fish if it hasn’t signed the EPA by January 2014.

The EC’s decision, taken unilaterally last September, ruffled Government’s feathers and sparked an intensive campaign to lobby political support in the EU to override the 2014 deadline.

Namibia welcomes the new deadline, and will continue fighting as hard as always to ensure that the country gets what it deserves from the EPA, Van der Walt said yesterday. Namibia provisionally initialled the interim EPA in December 2007, but has refused to sign it unless issues regarding unfair competition are resolved.

"We will make it very clear that the EPA negotiations must be fair," he said. "If not, we will ask for another extension come 2016."

Van der Walt, who is also second vice chairman of the ACP Committee on Economics, is currently in Brussels to attend the joint sitting of the EU-ACP Parliament.

During this session, Namibia will in no uncertain terms state that EPA negotiations must progress in a way that can be monitored, he said. There must be clear targets set to be met in a clear timeframe to ensure that the process moves forward.

"Namibia remains extremely firm in its position: we won’t be bullied. The EPA must be a win-win situation for both parties," Van der Walt said.

Chambas echoed similar sentiments in his statement.

"We should also recall that earlier, the European Parliament had called on the European Commission to show flexibility in the negotiation process. It is hoped that the Commission will demonstrate such flexibility in order to resolve the outstanding contentious issues between now and 2016," he said.

Chambas said negotiating the EPAs is a "complicated process, involving a number of very complex and diverse issues which can impact heavily on our developing economies".

"It requires careful and thorough discussions, without the pressure of unreasonable deadlines," he said.

"The two-year extension can help to facilitate a more serene environment to make balanced decisions beneficial to all parties," Chambas said.