Saturday, January 23, 2021

Botswana, EU to stand shoulder-to- shoulder on EPA talks

Botswana government and the European Union (EU) have pledged to stand shoulder-to- shoulder in the ongoing Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations despite threats from Namibia and South Africa, which are likely to scupper the talks.

“I want to reaffirm Botswana’s commitment towards concluding a comprehensive EPA. It is also our ardent wish and hope that all parties in this process of the negotiations will be happy if not entirely satisfied with the outcome.

“We continue to support the principle that the EPA should encourage region integration and support our development efforts,” Foreign Affairs Minister, Phandu Skelemani, said at the Europe Day last week.

“The agreement should be signed soon, but it has to be completed by provisions on services and investment which will give a stronger development dimension to the agreement,” head of European Commission to Botswana and Southern African Development Community, Paul Malin, said.

The statements come at a time when the SADC region, namely Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland, have opened the second round of talks in Brusssels to discuss the services and investment.

Botswana, Namibia , Lesotho and Swaziland initialed the agreement last year but South Africa has declined to do so. Namibia, which has initialed under tremendous pressure from its farmers who still want to export their beef to the EU, has raised some concern regarding the agreement but they have since been instructed to submit their complaint through SADC.

Nearly one and half weeks ago, SADC negotiators met in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, to sketch plans and stance regarding the talks but insiders said they were “upset” by Namibia’s position.

“We thought that they will bring their concerns to us so that we can consider them before presenting them to the EU as a regional proposition but they failed to do that. As for South Africa things are getting untidy. They told us that they have recently met EU negotiators in Geneva, Switzerland, at the World Trade Organisation meeting and they want to negotiate on their own,” insiders said.

Last month, Evano Casella, the European Commission chief negotiator in the ongoing SADC- EU economic partnership agreement, rejected any attempt by any country to negotiate on an individual basis saying, “We are not negotiating with individual countries but with regions.”

The EU and its trading partners from the Africa Caribbean and Pacific countries are engaged in marathon negotiations aimed at formalizing their trade agreement to comply with the Geneva-based World Trade Organisation.
The new development will replace the old trade agreement which guaranteed the 78 poor ACP countries access to the EU markets without any reciprocity.

Further, the asymmetric agreement will ensure that goods from ACP countries enter the EU markets quota free and duty free.

EU-SADC are meeting in Brussel between May 19-21 to try to push the initialed agreement towards signing and ultimately ratification before the end of the year.

“Initialing is a very important step but now we have to move towards signing. And that has to be done before June so that we can start the process of implementation,” he said, adding that Namibia has raised some objections.
“Namibia is putting itself in a very difficult position. It has initialed but now is coming up with some objections. They have to understand that we can not listen to their concerns if they are not submitted through SADC. We are not negotiating with a country but with the region; that is what we told them,” he said.

Namibia is also trying to protect its fledgling diamond polishing and its long term interests on the development of uranium. However, the EPAs agreements are asymmetrical as part of the plan to ensure that developing countries infant industries are protected. The move will ensure that within the next 15 year, developing countries’ industries will have consolidated before WTO imposes a mandatory law of free trade across the world.

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