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Resist external forces, trade bodies urged

Resist External Forces, Trade Bodies Urged

The Herald (Harare)

September 18, 2005

Darlington Musarurwa and Augustine Moyo


REGIONAL trade integration bodies must stand together and prevent outside forces like the European Union (EU) from promoting divisions to suit their varied agendas, especially when dealing with African member states, a Government minister has urged.

The Minister of Industry and International Trade, Cde Obert Mpofu, issued the warning last week at a regional conference on Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) and Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) experiences in negotiating economic partnership agreements with the EU.

The call comes at a time when Eastern and Southern African (ESA) countries and the Sadc region are preparing to engage in substantive negotiations with the EU before the end of this year.

ESA countries are scheduled to engage the EU on the negotiations for a new trade pact to replace the Lome IV Convention on the 24th and 25th of next month.

Issues still under discussion between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP) include policies on agriculture, global market access, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) issues, services and trade facilitation.

"It came to our attention that some time in May this year the EU was trying to divide the ESA countries by suggesting that some four countries within ESA should move over from ESA and negotiate as Sadc.

"I want to urge all stakeholders involved to stand together when such issues arise. We should not let outside forces divide us to suit their varied agendas.

"We derive our strength from our numbers and we should, therefore, stand together to defeat these machinations," said Cde Mpofu.

Presently, the issue of allegiance to various regional trade bodies has become important to the fate of the negotiations.

For instance, the Zambian government is said to be making consultations on whether to align itself to Sadc or Comesa (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa).

Cde Mpofu added that for trade negotiation bodies to get maximum benefit from the economic partnership agreements, Sadc and Comesa need a common vision, pace and objectives.

In Zimbabwe, the Government is working with stakeholders, which include the Trade and Development Studies Centre, in order to improve the country’s negotiating skills.

It is hoped that by sharing experiences, the various representative bodies that participate in multilateral trade negotiations will be more aware of the issues at stake and be able to forge fairer trade agreements.

The consultations are also being undertaken to develop a strategy for the smooth transition of the ACP states into the world economy.

"The objectives of the EPA are premised on the need to foster the gradual and smooth integration of ACP states into the world economy, enhancement of production, increase in supply and trade capacities, creation of new trade, eradication of poverty and supporting of regional integration process within the ACP.

"These objectives will be meaningless to us unless they translate into tangible benefits for our people," explained Cde Mpofu.

EPA negotiations are expected to radically change the existing trade scenario.

"Our objective is that this change should reinforce the importance of trade in the development of our economies, employment generation, wealth creation for our people and ultimately poverty eradication.

"This can only be achieved if the EU does not shortchange us on our exports and begin to view our countries as equal trading partners," added the minister.

Cde Mpofu said it was about time the EU respected the spirit of equal negotiating partners as enshrined in the Cotonou Agreement, adding that they should, therefore, desist from dictating the pace and outcome of negotiations with African countries.

"The EU should also grant special and differential treatment to ACP countries when negotiating, especially in agriculture," he said.

At the 19th meeting of the Comesa inter-governmental committee held in Rwanda three months ago, Comesa member states called for the removal of agricultural subsidies by developed countries so as to allow Third World countries fair access to their markets.

Rwandan Minister of Commerce, Invest-ment, Tourism and Co-operatives Professor Manasseh Nshuti pointed out that the developed world gives Africa a total of US$1 billion in aid, yet at the same time African farmers lose an estimated US$90 billion annually due to the subsidies given to farmers in developed countries.

He said: "We as Comesa member states do not want aid, we want to be allowed to compete fairly on the global markets, but as things are today, we have been turned into slaves through the export of raw materials."

Prof Nshuti reiterated that if the developed world scrapped subsidies on agricultural products, Africa would not need any donor aid.

To date, many African countries have been on the receiving end of depressed world prices that are induced by the flooding of world markets with cheap goods from developed countries.

However, the United States and the EU have undertaken to cut their subsidies but have not yet implemented the promise.

Zimbabwe has not been spared from the viability problems that are attendant to subsidised commodities on international markets, notably, a row between local tobacco farmers and merchants erupted in May this year when prices offered were low owing to international prices caused by the flooding of the subsidised tobacco crop from Brazil and the United States.

The just-ended regional meeting, which was attended by delegates from as far afield as Senegal and Uganda, sought to share experiences in EPA’s negotiations with the EU and find out areas of convergence and divergence between Sadc and ESA as well as to re-strategise on the way forward for effective negotiations.