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Namibia: ’Forget EU offer’ - expert

’Forget EU Offer’ - Expert

New Era (Windhoek)

April 18, 2007

By Catherine Sasman

Market researcher at Meatco, Wallie Roux, yesterday criticized the European Union’s (EU) haste to have the Southern African Development Community-Economic Partnership Agreement (SADC-EPA) signed by the end of the year, fearing that this could compromise the content of the agreement.

"It is unwise to run to meet the deadline. In the process, we can sign away our future," he warned, adding that the EU is using "all kinds of carrot-and-stick tactics to get the SADC-EPA members to sign" by year-end. "[But] personally I think they have misjudged themselves with the complexities of the realities in southern Africa."

He suggested that Namibia should "forget" the recent offer made by the European Commission to all African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to have all remaining quota and tariff limitations removed.

"This is the biggest successful public relations stunt pulled by the EU," he observed.

The EU offer is for the elimination of tariffs and import quotas for all ACP countries, giving all these countries the same full market access to the 27 EU countries that all least developed countries (LCDs) in this group and elsewhere already have under the EU’s "Everything But Arms" regime.

Namibia is currently negotiating an EPA as member of the SADC-EPA configuration. The EU earlier indicated that the new offer would secure continued and even better access for Namibian beef to the EU market, while at the same time opening up much improved export possibilities for Namibian grapes and other fruits and vegetables to that market.

The on-going EPA negotiations are taking place in the framework of the Cotonou Agreement signed between the EU and ACP countries in 2000. It provides for negotiation, before the end of this year, of a new regional trading arrangement compatible with the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

"It took the EU 11 months to respond to the SADC-EPA Framework Proposals, which tried to rectify the current regional situation within southern Africa. Now that the EU has responded, it wants the SADC-EPA to sign a comprehensive agreement before year-end," remarked Roux.

"It took South Africa more than four years to conclude their Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement with the EU and they still got a raw deal. Now how do you expect the SADC-EPA to conclude a deal by year-end that includes additional issues like services, investment, competition, government procurement and intellectual property rights? Seems like the EU is trying to get into the World’s Guinness Book of Records," he added cynically.

He further suggested that the playing field was not level to fully constitute equal partnership as requisite in the EPA agreement.

"In the EPA negotiations one of the prerequisites to be WTO compatible is reciprocity. According to GATT Article XXIV the two parties have to liberalise ’substantially all trade’ in order to satisfy this requirement. SADC’s total exports to the EU - excluding South Africa - are less than two percent of the total EU imports. Does that constitute equal partners in this envisaged EPA agreement?" he enquired, adding that the EU had made clear distinction between market access from South Africa and the rest of the EPA members.

Speaking at the launch of a booklet entitled ’More Trade - Less Jobs and More Poverty?’ released by the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRi), Roux contended that the WTO trade rules - though a good system in principle - currently only benefits the developed countries.

"For countries like Namibia it is a Catch-22 situation - if you’re not part of the system, you’re going to lose. If you’re part of the system, you’re going to be marginalized." The ultimate solution, he said, is to remain marginalized.

He conceded that Namibia - and Botswana in particular in SADC - is in the unenviable position where it has to sign the EPA agreement by the end of the year, notwithstanding its concerns. "If we do not sign the EPA agreement, then we have no legal agreement with the EU. This can lead to trade disruptions with the EU," he said.