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More time needed for EPA talks - Motlhale

Mmegi, Botswana

More time needed for EPA talks - Motlhale

By Mbongeni Mguni, Staff Writer

6 August 2010

Ahead of the August round of negotiations between the SADC EPA group and the EU, the Acting President of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Parliamentary Assembly says the region should be afforded more time to reach a final decision on a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU.

With persuasion from the EU and a December 2007 deadline for negotiations having already elapsed, efforts towards a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) are being accelerated. In June, the SADC EPA group committed itself to finalising and signing the full EPA by the end of this year.

The group also committed itself to presenting a united front to the EU, marking a departure from the divisions that occurred last June when four out of the seven-nation group signed an interim EPA with the EU.

This week, Odirile Motlhale said the region needed to be afforded more time to understand and discuss the various complex commitments demanded by a full EPA with the EU. He said regional integration and cohesion should be a critical component of the negotiations towards trade partnerships with the EU.

"They (EU) must give us more time, though we understand that they have already granted us time," said Motlhale, who is also the Ramotswa Member of Parliament. "They have the resources and the experts for these complex arrangements and they also understand the matters at hand better.

"They must bear with us and give us time. We have signed the EPA, but we need time for the comprehensive one. The full EPA must promote regional integration."

Motlhale, who is also the joint-Chair of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, recently returned from the fifth ACP-EU Regional Meeting of East Africa in the Seychelles.

The legislator said similar concerns were raised in the Seychelles meeting. "They discussed the EPAs and the context was to say these affect regional integration," he said.

"That side they have COMESA, EAC and EGAD, which are regional bodies and what they were saying is that EPA are a configuration to help with trade, but they must not undermine regional integration.

"In southern Africa, we also have SACU, SADC and other states that belong to COMESA. When we don’t move together as a region towards EPA, like when others have signed and others have not, this creates problems for regional integration."

However, Motlhale said Botswana also needed to be aware of the disadvantages associated with either not signing a full EPA or delaying it. He cited the lucrative beef export market to the EU that annually rakes in millions of pula in export revenue and also supports the local beef industry.

Regional integration is expected to once again hog the spotlight at the SADC meeting, to be held in Namibia next week.
Government officials said the ministers of finance, foreign affairs and trade and industry would participate in the Windhoek meeting, which will focus on regional integration. A Ministerial Task Force on Regional Integration and the Council of Ministers will consider several agenda items critical to regional integration. These include proposals on consolidation of the Free Trade Area, preparations towards the SADC Customs Union, and proposed Free Trade Area between SADC, EAC and COMESA.
A SADC Summit to be attended by heads of state will follow the ministers’ meeting.

Meanwhile, the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly will meet in September in Brussels where further discussion on EPA and other trade related matters will be tackled. Motlhale revealed that the Brussels meeting will be of a preparatory nature, with the delegates representing various economic sectors gearing up for a comprehensive meeting to be held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.