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Namibia: ’Half cooked’ opinion piece upsets meat industry

Namibia Economist (Windhoek) | 17 May 2007

Namibia: ’Half Cooked’ Opinion Piece Upsets Meat Industry

Staff Reporters

An opinion piece by Meatco’s market researcher and trade advisor to the Agricultural Trade Forum (ATF) had the meat industry crying foul last week and throwing toys about saying such views could throw the industry into jeopardy.

Wallie Roux, who got himself suspended by Meatco last week, expressed scepticism on the technicality of the on-going Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations between the European Union (EU) and SADC.

Namibia wants to get the SADC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations with the EU finalised before the end of 2007 for it to continue accessing the EU market duty and quota free.

In his opinion pieces -published in the media- Roux wondered out loud whether Namibia has looked at both pros and cons in negotiating with fellow countries in SADC with the aim of getting the best out of EPA.

He also doubted whether the EPA could be concluded in such a short period of time, and hinted at what he called "severe trade disruptions" may the new agreement not be in place by the year end.

"Given that since the launch of SADC-EPA negotiations in July 2004 only Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures and Technical Barriers on Trade were on the negotiation agenda, it would be more than a gargantuan task to have an all-inclusive agreement in place before the end of 2007," Roux said in the published opinion piece.

In retaliation the ATF, Meatco and the Meat Board of Namibia called a hastily media conference on Friday to set the record straight. Meatco also suspended Roux for "breaking internal rules". The trio hinted that Roux had no right to issue an opinion which appears to the public as though the official stance by the industry. When contacted for comment this week, Roux, declined to give fresh comments saying "talking is what got me in this place where I now find myself."

In a joint statement, ATF, Meatco and the Meat Board said "there is no immediate cause of concern regarding the continuation of meat exports to the EU market" as conveyed by Roux.

However, the statement does not address the three critical issues raised by Roux, of which one is the potential problem which may arise from over-lapping membership of certain countries within the SADC-EPA negotiations.

Roux also raises questions on whether the EU will be prepared to reach an agreement without the "New Generation" aspect being on the agenda. "New Generation" is a generic term used by negotiators with references to issues such as e-commerce, competition, innovation and intellectual property, public procurement, environment, and good governance. The EU wants to have this on the agenda.

Senior trade advisor at the ATF, Jürgen Hoffmann, who responded to questions e-mailed to the three upset giants in the meat industry, said these are now on the agenda "in principle".

However, said Hoffmann, what is necessary for Namibia is to maintain market access to the EU with preferential terms and this is coupled to a few negotiation issues such as customs duties and defensive measures to protect our markets in the SACU.

With regard to Roux scepticism about concluding the current EPA agreement by December 2007, Hoffmann said Roux is quite right in his assessment.

"[But] it should be mentioned again that there is no way out of concluding at least a provisional understanding that allows Namibia to export under present conditions until a full agreement has been concluded. This is not only in the interest of producers, but also in the interest of Meatco," said Hoffmann.