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Nam, SA fail to sign new EU trade deal

The Namibian

Nam, SA fail to sign new EU trade deal

By Staff Reporter

26 November 2007

Namibia and South Africa were the only two southern African countries that did not sign Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) for a new trade deal with the European Union on Friday.

While Angola wanted to join the agreement "as soon as possible", Namibia and the region’s economic heavyweight South Africa "will determine their participation in the agreement in the coming days", the European Commission said in a statement.

South Africa has a separate trade deal with the EU.

The European Commission and four southern African countries agreed a new trade deal, opening the way for what Brussels hopes will be a series of agreements with scores of former European colonies.

The EU had signed the Cotonou trade agreement seven years ago with 77 countries from Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP), which expires next month, allowing some access of their goods to Europe.

For Namibia this meant a duty-free export quota of beef, fish and table grapes.

The Cotonou agreement runs out on December 31 and must be replaced with a new one, the EPA, and this must be compliant with the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Last week the Namibian agriculture industry was worried about the trade agreements not having been signed, saying the country would not be able to export beef to Europe from January 1.

Grapes and fish will fall under another category and are not really affected.

"We are very worried about Namibia’s beef industry, should no EPA be concluded," the President of the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), Raimar von Hase, told The Namibian.

Namibian farmers selling their cattle to the Meatco and Witvlei abattoirs receive about N$300 more per head of cattle than when exporting to South Africa," Von Hase explained.

"These two abattoirs carve up the carcasses and send the best meat cuts to the EU countries.

Both communal and commercial farmers sell their cattle to these two abattoirs and if no exports are possible anymore, then it affects all of us."

"The Namibian economy will lose hundreds of millions of dollars if our beef cannot be exported to Europe from January 2008 onwards.

The results would be catastrophic," Von Hase told The Namibian.

"Who will then be held responsible for this fiasco ?" According to agricultural trade expert Wallie Roux, Namibia could only be left with exporting beef to South Africa, should the EU-SADC talks fail.

"Not all is lost yet in Brussels, however.

The EU would lose a lot in reputation if the EPAs are not signed, there could be a last-minute solution found," Roux said when approach for comment ahead of Thursday’s last-minute negotiations.

Development groups such as Oxfam have criticised the EPA deals as unfair to the ACP countries, potentially opening up their economies to too much competition from the EU.

The campaigners have accused the EU of strong-arming the ACP countries into signing the new deals before January 1.

That is the expiry date of a World Trade Organisation waiver that has allowed long-standing preferential trade arrangements between the EU and the ACP to continue, even though they were ruled illegal by the WTO.

Apart from Namibia and South Africa, negotiators from the EU and Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho initialled deals covering trade in goods and development, the Commission said.

"This is an historic step forward in the relationship between the European Union and southern Africa," EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said in a statement.

The European Commission wants to formally sign EPAs with the six regions of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of countries before December 31.

The deals are likely to be mostly interim, goods-only agreements signed at first only by subgroups in each region because of opposition from some countries.

Additional reporting by Reuters