logo logo

EU wants Dar to decide under which regional bloc it will negotiate EPAs

The East African, Tanzania

EU wants Dar to decide under which regional bloc it will negotiate EPAs

By Wilfred Edwin, Special Correspondent

2 April 2007

Tanzania has failed to register any significant progress in negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union for the past 13 months.

The reason for this is seen as a crisis caused by the fresh regional membership configuration demanded by the EU. The new configuration requires that for effective negotiations, Tanzania must pull out from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to negotiate either under the East African Customs Union (EACU), or East and Southern Africa (ESA) grouping.

Kenya and Uganda are likely to quit the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and negotiate EPAs under the EA Customs Union.

Analysts say these revelations could help explain why it has taken so long for countries in Southern Africa, which are negotiating EPAs in sub-regions such as ESA, Comesa, SADC and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) to forge ahead with negotiations.

Basil Mramba, the Tanzanian Minister for Industry, Trade and Marketing, said last week that the major conundrum troubling Tanzania and a few Least Developed Countries in SADC, Tanzania, Angola and Mozambique has not been to negotiate EPAs per se, but to sort out the membership configuration issue.

He said the EU has been pressing for Tanzania to negotiate the agreements under the EA Customs Union.

“We have not decided yet, so there is nothing to discuss until we sort out the issue of configuration,” he said, adding that Tanzania is still assessing the political and economic implications.

The minister noted that it has taken over a year for the EU to respond to the proposals sent by SADC 13 months ago. “For one full month, the EU has been silent. They only responded last month.”

But the trend shows that member states see negotiation under EA Customs as not feasible because of the infancy of the bloc and the weak economies of the member states.

According to Mr Mramba, Kenya and Uganda were reluctant to return to negotiate under EACU at the time, and Tanzania was left in a dilemma. As a result, “SADC proposed in 2003 that Tanzania continue negotiating EPAs under SADC.”

The economic blocs currently negotiating EPAs with EU are SADC, Comesa, ESA and SACU. However, countries like South Africa already have bilaterally negotiated agreements with the EU. According to Mr Mramba, there is an emergence of scenarios in SADC where negotiations are hitting a snag.

For instance, SADC is embroiled in three different agreements where South Africa, a strong member of the group, is in a bilateral free trade agreement with the EU.

Then there is SACU, the oldest Customs Union in the world, whose members are South Africa itself, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, both members of SADC but negotiating EPAs with EU in SACU.

SADC EPA members are Tanzania, Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Botswana, Swaziland, and Namibia.

The first four are also in the category of Least Developed Countries, which benefit from trade preferences under the Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative.

This political dimension of regional integration is one of the reasons why the economic integration situation in SADC is so complex, according to Mr Mramba.

The likelihood of EPAs succeeding, the minister said, will depend a great deal on sorting out the problems of Lesotho in SACU, which is also the LCD with special treatment.

According to the minister, the approach used by the EU to negotiate free trade areas is to divide the nations into Custom Unions - the SACU and EACU.

The suggestions are for Tanzania, Mozambique and Angola to look for an alternative body to join for EPA negotiations.