SA to give BLS nations ultimatum on EPAs

The Swazi Observer, Swaziland

SA to give BLS nations ultimatum on EPAs

16 September 2009

By Teetee Zwane

In the latest twist of events, South Africa is reported to have ‘changed tunes’ and has decided to let Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (BLS) ratify their interim Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union (EU).

Reports in South African media said that country’s trade negotiators, who would be in the country to attend a two-day meeting beginning tomorrow for Southern African Customs Union (SACU) member states, would deliver a crisp ultimatum to the three countries about the future of the customs union.

It was further reported that the three member states would be given a choice ; find a way of getting around the predicament the EPAs have put SACU in or face up to the reality that the EPAs would render the customs union, on which the BLS nations depend for income, to be so ineffective it would be as good as dead.

“This is a significant change in position for South Africa, which has been playing hardball to get the BLS countries not to sign the EPAs. South Africa has decided to let these states ratify the agreements knowing there’s only one way to get around the conundrum EPAs pose for SACU - to renegotiate how SACU works,” it was observed.

Meanwhile, Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Jabulile Mashwama recently expressed hope that the meeting would come up with a workable communiqué for the members.

She assured the nation that government was managing the situation expediently and everything was under control.

Previously, Prime Minister Dr Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini said the discord within the customs union was actually placing smaller countries like Swaziland in a difficult position regarding choice.

He urged South Africa and the EU to make every effort to soften their positions regarding the EPAs and pave the way for a “win-win rather than zero-sum position”. The PM emphasised that it would have been economic suicide for Swaziland not to sign an interim EPA with the EU.

Progress

However, he acknowledged that the signing of EPAs was one of the burning issues threatening progress towards regional integration. “Progress in regional integration is an objective common to all SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries. One burning issue at present is the extent to which the signing of the EPA with the EU – by Swaziland and two of our neighbours – is a threat to that objective,” he said.

Meanwhile, SA reports said according to the department of trade and industry’s (DTI’s) Mzukisi Qobo, the EPAs would obliterate the prospects of the SACU member countries being able to apply the World Trade Organisation’s pre-requisite for a customs union, which is a common external tariff for imports.

It was said that while SA concedes, the EU has laced the EPAs with enticing short-term benefits as well as potential for lucrative development aid, it has warned the agreements would ultimately cost Southern African signatory countries their economic sovereignty.

“No other countries will want to negotiate trade concessions knowing Europe will automatically be extended the same offer, which means that ultimately the EPAs would have a chilling effect on the potentially lucrative trade with the Bric countries (Brazil, India and China),” it was reported.
Qobo said this, in turn, would not allow the SACU members that did sign the EPAs to maximise crucial opportunities to diversify their economies.

"Countries will be stunted," he said, adding that the net effect of this would be to undermine the very reason SACU came into being - to forge regional economic integration.

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