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SADC-EU trade negotiations: the overlapping membership conundrum

Southern Africa: SADC-EU Trade Negotiations: the Overlapping Membership Conundrum

Southern African News Features (Harare)

April 21, 2006

Joseph Ngwawi

The challenges of overlapping memberships of regional groupings are coming to the fore as African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries seek a new economic partnership with the European Union (EU).

As negotiations for an economic partnership agreement (EPA) swing into gear, regional groupings such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) find themselves having to clear the first hurdle of how to deal with member states that also belong to other regional groupings.

The 14-member SADC finds itself having to go into the negotiations as a depleted grouping.

About six countries - who are members of both SADC and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) - have broken ranks with SADC for purposes of the negotiations and are discussing with the EU under the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) banner.

These are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Only Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and the United Republic of Tanzania are negotiating as SADC.

South Africa participates only as an observer after having concluded its own trade agreement with the EU in the late 1990s.

EPAs are trade and development agreements that the EU is presently negotiating with the six African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions - the Caribbean; Central Africa; Eastern and Southern Africa; Pacific, Southern Africa (the SADC group) and West Africa.

The EPAs will replace the trade chapters of the Cotonou Agreement reached in 2000 between the EU and the ACP countries. They will replace the one-way trade preferences under the Cotonou Agreement with reciprocal trade arrangements between the ACP states and the EU.

Substantive negotiations have been running since January 2005 and will end in June 2007. The negotiations are on market access for agriculture and non-agriculture products and fisheries, trade in services, development cooperation, other trade related issues and legal provisions.

The challenges of overlapping membership are likely to weaken negotiating positions of SADC and COMESA.

Complicating the situation will be the request by South Africa for the EU to consider having a single SADC trade pact based on its own free trade deal with the Europeans.

This will raise questions about how SADC countries currently negotiating as ESA will be treated in the event of a single SADC-EU deal.

Similarly, a single SADC-EU deal might require amending South Africa’s own trade deal with Europe.

The African Union has embarked on a programme to harmonise operations and commitments of regional economic communities (RECs).

One of the essential conditions for the African Economic Community is to ensure that there are uniform commitments by all RECs and, therefore, do away with the challenges of dual membership.

The African Union’s Commissioner for Economic Affairs, Maxwell Mkwezalamba, has been on a tour of the various RECs that saw him visit the SADC Secretariat in Botswana in March.

The purpose of the visit was to consult SADC on the rationalisation and harmonisation of RECs.

"This is currently very high on the agenda of the AU, motivated by the overlapping and duplication of efforts," said SADC in a statement released after Mkwezalamba’s visit.

SADC has lined up at least three meetings of its EPA technical team between April and July to come up with the region’s position on rules of origin, trade facilitation and market access.