Avano Casella, the European Commission’s chief negotiator in the ongoing EU- SADC trade negotiation on economic partnership agreement, said Angola, Namibia and South Africa have formed a “pressure group” aimed at coercing the EU in a bid to give more concessions.
“Angola, Namibia and South Africa (ANS), have formed a pressure group and have presented their consolidated argument, which we are still considering. There is a commitment to negotiate on the part of the EU and we are still studying the document and we will get it to them,” the Italian man said.
The three countries bolted out of the EU-SADC trade negotiations raising concerns and they either initialed in protest or totally refused to initial the agreement.
However, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland have initialed. Out of the five, only Namibia could not proceed to the next stage of negotiating on services and investment at a meeting which was held in Brussels last month.
“We are looking at the possibility of putting some modification to the text. I believe that compromises are possible to both parties,” Casella said.
However, he took a stronger position when it came to South Africa saying that they can not bend the rules more than what they have done already.
“South Africa has to understand that we can not give it any other offer than what we have already done. It has to understand that it is a developing country and can not be treated like others,” he said.
Under the economic partnership agreement, members of the 78 member states of Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries are expected to liberalize at least 85 percent of the total trade with the EU and by 2018, all tariffs will have to be removed to allow the free flow of goods and services between the regions.
EPAs are quota free and duty free trade agreements that are intended to lift the developing countries from poverty and link them to the international trade. Further, the intention is to simplify the trade agreement and foster regional integration and capacity building among the ACP countries. The agreements are also World Trade Organisation compliant, unlike the just expired Contonou agreement.
“Southern African countries have different problems and different needs. I think we have to review the EPAs because there are a lot of concerns and most of them are coming from Africa,” Jo Leinen, the German member of the European parliament said.
“There is a lot of tension between other member states, especially in Southern Africa. However, South Africa has to understand that it has to give to its neighbours. South Africa is a big state while others are small and the current tensions in the region are not the aim of the EU,” he said.
The ANS group is raising its concern at a time when the ACP countries future is in the balance as Brazil has approached the WTO court to seek clarification on the status of EPAs and, most importantly, about the countries which have not yet initialed. Most of the countries which have not initialed are trading under the Everything But Arms (EBA) rule which has a less incentive and a unilateral arrangement that can be terminated at any time.
If Brazil succeeds, ACP countries will lose preferential treatment which they are enjoying as all the countries wishing to export to the European market can do willy nilly at the cost of higher tariffs.
“We are gambling at the moment. The idea is that, after initialing, we should quickly move to signing the agreement. I do not think that they (in Geneva) would refuse to give us an extension of 1-2 years but Brazil is already raising concerns and it needs clarification under most Favourable Nations.
“If they (EPA negotiations) take long, we would have to move back to the tariff system but the biggest losers would be the developing countries,” Giorgio Cocchi, the Director General for Development at the European Commission said.