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Final EPA agreement this year – EU

Namibia Economist, Windhoek

Final EPA agreement this year – EU

By Nyasha Francis Nyaunwa

10 March 2012

The European Union (EU) head of delegation to Namibia said he is hopefull that the drawn out Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) discussions will be finalised during the course of the year.

In an exclusive interview on Thursday, Raul Fuentes Milan said he was hopeful that a final agreement will be signed before the expiry of the existing agreement because all that was now outstanding from the Namibian government was a reply on the proposals made by the EU on the rules of origin on fisheries.

He said: “Basically the message is that negotiations are progressing very positively and regularly, and there is no political stumbling block. We are now waiting for Namibia to reply on a specific issue regarding the rules of origin on fisheries and there are other technical issues such as the Most Favoured Nation clause (MFN), Infant Industry Protection and others which need to be solved in the context of SADC as a region. We have presented our proposal and we are waiting for Namibia’s reply. We hope that a final deal can be reached in the course of the year.”

Milan said he was grateful to the visit of the European Union Trade Commissioner in September last year who held fruitful discussions with President Hifikepunye Pohamba. He said the discussions clarified a number of misunderstandings.

“The negotiations have been carrying on for a very long time. I think that the European Union Trade Commissioner, Karel de Gucht’s visit in September when he met with President Hifikepunye Pohamba clarified some outstanding issues and opened for the resolution of all outstanding issues.

“It brought about a new climate in the negotiations and we are very satisfied. It clarified some misunderstandings regarding in particular the Swakopmund agreement. He confirmed that this agreement stand and it will be part of the final EPA. That paved the way for a new climate of confidence and trust that we can reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial,” Milan said.

The Ambassador said the current deal which comes to an end on 1 January 2014 is unilateral. He said: “The problem with that agreement is that it may be legally challenged by other partners as granting unjustified benefits to Namibia not compatible with WTO rules. Namibia is not a least developed country and we don’t have a bilateral agreement with the country. All the Latin American or Asian countries can challenge the agreement and say why is the union giving preference to Namibia and not to us.
“So we feel that the unilateral agreement is not sustainable and we need to change it for a bilateral one which should be of course fully satisfactory to Namibia as well.

“I am very happy with the progress which we have reached with our Namibian counterparts. We both have a very constructive approach to the negotiations. We believe our shared interest is to reach a bilateral agreement before that date.”
Milan added that trade relations are a very important part of Namibia and the EU relationship, saying the EU is the second most important trade partner of Namibia.

“We want to preserve that trade flow. However our relationship with Namibia goes beyond trade relations and include development assistance and in general a political partnership so that we build upon our shared principal regarding democracy, protection of human rights and the rule of law to address all issues of mutual concern.”
Milan said he was not phased by the threat posed by China saying Namibia is free to have good relations with China or any other partner.
“We want to work on a win win scenario where everybody receives benefit from a stronger relationship,” he said.