Botswana is cautiously optimistic about the on going Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) that are being negotiated between the European Union and the Southern African Development Community, despite some snags.
Junior Minister in the ministry of trade, Duke Lefhoko, told a press briefing recently that the talks are currently experiencing some setbacks but added that they are still hopeful that they will reach a successful conclusion.
EPAs are a duty free and quota free set of economic arrangement between the EU and a 78 member states of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries aimed at fishing out the latter from a circle of under-development and poverty.
Further, the arrangement, which is World Trade Organisation compatible, seeks to deepen trade relations between the developing countries and also tries to simplify trade arrangements such as loosening the rule of origins for the firms operating in those countries.
The move comes at a time when trade between EU and ACP countries is showing that the developing countries are losing out.
“We have to sort out our problems first. We need to reach a reconciliation before we can negotiate as a group,” he said ahead of the negotiation team’s departure to Brussels to press further on the negotiations this coming week.
The negotiations stalled after Angola, Namibia and South Africa raised some clarification on issues affecting the infant industries and export duties splitting the South African Customs Union apart.
Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland initialed the agreement in November last yearÔÇöthat permitted them to continue trading with EU outside the principles of everything but arms.
“South Africa is seeking clarifications on some issues,” Lefhoko said.
The EPAs negotiations have also attracted criticism from the labour movements, NGOs and certain quarters of the EU socialist parties claiming that they are skewed towards the EU.
Speaking at the same briefing, Sweden’s trade minister, Ewa Bjorling, said one of the issues that are complicating the talks are the upcoming Presidential elections in the USA and other European countries.
“There are small, small things that need to be finalized. I think that with the Presidential elections in the US and some of the EU member states we might not meet the set deadline,” he said.
She added: “We should never give up on this because it is the largest trade agreement.”
“There is a dire need for trade capacity building in Botswana for us to be able to effectively analyse trade policy issues and participate in the international trade negotiations,” Lefhoko said.