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SADC trade deal with Europe seen by mid-2011

Mmegi Online, Botswana

SADC trade deal with Europe seen by mid-2011

7 January 2011

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) was presenting a more unified front at the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations with the European Union (EU), said Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, adding that a final agreement could possibly be reached by mid-2011.

This came after negotiations dragged on beyond the previously hoped for deadline of December 2010.

"We are now working in much more of a united way as the SADC group, and that is important and good for the potential outcome," Davies told Engineering News Online.

He also emphasised that the parties were not negotiating interim-EPAs, but rather, as agreed last year, were working towards ratification of a final EPA. This included negotiation on more difficult issues, which were excluded from the interim-EPA negotiations.

The interim-EPA negotiations previously caused friction among SADC member States, as some of them, namely Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland signed the interim-EPA, while South Africa, Namibia and Angola did not.

South Africa was engaging in the negotiations on two levels, Davies stated.

Firstly, South Africa has to ensure that the trade arrangements were compatible with what has been agreed to in the Southern African Customs Union, thus the EPAs should not impose complicating obligations and should not destabilise regional integration.

The second level of engagement was to ensure that a new trading arrangement, which would replace the existing Trade Development and Cooperation Agreement (TDCA) with the EU, would deliver additional benefits for the country.

Specifically, fisheries and agricultural products were areas where Davies felt that there was room for South Africa to leverage additional benefits.

Davies noted that the EPA negotiations were progressing, although the most difficult issues, such as export taxes and the most favoured nation clause, had been left until last, and had yet to be dealt with. These were considered "make or break" issues, "so there is still plenty of work to be done".

The next technical negotiating meeting was scheduled for February.Davies stated that the EU was showing "some flexibility".

The flexibility was evident in that the parties were talking about co-operation on difficult issues, and not binding commitments, although there was some idea that these could be implemented as "rendezvous clauses". This meant that at a certain point in time, parties would agree to meet and see how far they could move on these issues.

"These issues included competition, and areas where we don’t have a common viewpoint - such as geographic implications," Davies said.

EPA negotiations between the EU and the SADC started in 2004, and the timetable for completion was 2008.

Until the end of 2007, the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries were trading with the EU under the Cotonou agreement, which some other members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) objected to, as they were preferential agreements and not in line with WTO rules.

The SADC group is made up of seven members - Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland. South Africa used to be an observer of the SADC EPA group, but was admitted into the configuration as an active negotiating party in February 2007.

South Africa currently trades with the EU under the TDCA, which was concluded in 1999.