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Namibia Revives EPA Discussions

New Era, Windhoek

Namibia Revives EPA Discussions

By Desie Heita

12 Febuary 2009

WINDHOEK - Namibia is taking another bite at discussions on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union in the hope of reaching a favourable standing.

Namibian Minister of Trade and Industry, Hage Geingob, met the European Union (EU)’s Trade Commissioner, Catherine Ashton, in Cape Town this week.

Ashton is in southern Africa to hold meetings with ministers from Angola, Namibia, and South Africa.

“I want to engage with southern African countries so that we can all gain more from our economic relationship,” said Ashton.

Discussions on EPA reached a crucial point in 2007 as Namibia, along with South Africa, initially refused to sign an interim agreement, shocking the agricultural sector that relies on beef and grape exports to the EU.

Namibia signed at the last minute on the understanding that a re-negotiation would take place to address its concerns. Namibia has problems with the text on liberalisation provisions.

Ashton has been visiting southern Africa since Monday until today, for talks with key government leaders with a view to move forward the bilateral and region-to-region trade relationships. A key goal of the visit is to discuss the Economic Partnership Agreement with southern African countries.

“I am particularly committed to discussing South Africa’s concerns over our Economic Partnership Agreement. I am also keen to ensure that the Southern African Customs Union is a success and express our commitment to regional integration,” said Ashton.

The 2007 refusal to sign by Namibia and South Africa split the position of Southern African Customs Union, although Namibia did eventually sign the interim agreement on condition that its concerns are addressed in subsequent negotiations.

However, the mood in the extended negotiations of 2008 was heavily peppered with distrust especially as the EU continued to push for the liberalisation of services, a condition that African countries are not comfortable with.

The EU insists that service liberalisation would create conditions for investment that are predictable and stable for EU investors.

Ashton is meeting South African trade minister Mandisi Mpahlwa and foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who last year said the EU is “using the EPAs to regain ground they think they have lost in their quest for hegemony in Africa”.

Ashton would also meet the President of Botswana, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, and trade and industry minister Neo Moroka.

“Botswana has played a key role in co-ordinating discussions in the region. I look forward to talking with Khama and Moroka about our future relationship,” said Ashton.