’We’ve messed up’ on EPAs - trade experts

The Swazi Observer | 28 February 2008

’We’ve messed up’ on EPAs - trade experts

By Teetee Zwane

EVEN though Swaziland initialled an interim economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), trade experts acknowledge that the country ’messed up’ by doing so.

An officer from the foreign affairs and trade ministry’s Trade Promotion Unit conceded that the Kingdom ’messed up’ by initialling these together with other southern African states which were negotiating under the SADC-EPA bloc, including Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola and Namibia. South Africa, which was also part of the group, has still not signed any such agreement.

However, the officer also said Swaziland had no choice if it wished to benefit from the (650 million euro) European Development Fund (EDF).

Swaziland has since signed a E617 million (63 million euro) agreement with the EU for aid under the this fund. This transpired at the EU-Africa Summit held in Lisbon, Portugal after presentation of Country and Adaptation Strategy papers.

Prime Minister Themba Dlamini, who attended the Summit on behalf of His Majesty King Mswati III, said the funds would be used mainly for human development including health as well as infrastructure development, rural electrification, water supply and capacity building.

Meanwhile, a trade expert said conclusion of the EPAs was not only for monetary benefit, but also for the development of the country as it should be noted that market access alone, was not enough.

"We had to initial in order to benefit from this fund," said the expert, who added "market access alone is not enough and it is not just about the money nor its value, but where it is targeted."

She said this funding, under the EPAs, was targeted at specific areas of development in the country, such as handicrafts, tourism, energy sector and others.

"It would be good, as a country, to move in tandem with the others as far as phase two of the negotiations is concerned," she said.

However, the general feeling was that Swaziland, together with the other countries that have initialled interim agreements, should try and re-negotiate these before moving forward into the next phase of negotiations for a comprehensive and final EPA.

Trade analysts were also of the opinion that the second phase of EPA negotiations could also potentially worsen what is already an uncomfortable situation in trade in goods, both in the regional and World Trade Organisation (WTO) context.

A report prepared by Lynette Gitonga on the significance of EPAs in the WTO says regionally, EPAs may provide EC goods access into the wider ACP markets. She says at the WTO, EPAs appear to have compromised the potential development benefits of the Doha Round, given concluded provisions reverse some of the Doha negotiating positions of developing countries.

"These include EPA commitments even by least developed countries (LDCs), to reduce up to 80 percent of tariffs, to eliminate export taxes and other useful development tools," the report states.

Gitonga also says further negotiations with the EC, before the conclusion of the Doha Round, could further detract from development objectives of developing countries and their negotiating leverage at the WTO.

"It remains doubtful if the threshold for substantially all trade, even for LDCs, will be reviewed or whether additional flexibilities for developing countries under GATT Article XXIV will be permissible in the WTO negotiations, beyond that agreed upon in the EPAs," she notes.

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source: Swazi Observer