Saturday, January 16, 2021

Botswana puts its weight behind EPAs

Neo Moroka, Trade and Industry minister, hailed the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) that are currently being negotiated between Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries and expressed hope that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states, which have not yet initialed, will ultimately do so.

Speaking at a press conference, which he jointly addressed with Gareth Thomas, a British member of parliament who sits on trade committees, Moroka said he is actively talking to his counterparts in the region and he hopes that they will ultimately join.
“The impression that I get when talking to the South African Trade minister is that they are willing to be part of SADC,” he said.

Angola, Namibia and South Africa (ANS) group have raised concerns over the current frame-work of negotiations throwing the SADC block into two camps. Angola and South Africa have not yet initialed the agreement but Namibia has, although it has raised some concerns.

Angola is understood to be asking for sometime to heal the wounds of decades of civil war that has ravaged the country’s infrastructure and industries.
EPAs are a new set of trade agreements which are World Trade Organisation (WTO) compliant as against the Contonuo Agreement that came to an end at the end of last year.

The EPAs agreement is aimed at ensuring that goods and services from ACP countries enter European markets duty free and quota free and consolidating regional trade with a view of reducing poverty within the developing nations.
The hotly debated trade arrangement is expected to simplify trade among the developing countries ÔÇôespecially issues related to rules of origin that will allow ACP countries import semi-finished stuff from the non ACP countries and converted into finished goods within the ACP region and then be exported to the EU market.

“Recently we had a meeting with the EU on the way forward on services and investment. We are currently looking at what kind of areas we could look at for opening up,” Moroka said.

Botswana, which is itching to become an international financial services centre and a regional ICT hub, is being praised for its constructive dialogue in the ongoing talks. Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland are expected to submit a joint position to the European Commission on how to progress on the talks.

“I am committed to the EPAs as the chairman (of SADC negotiating team). I will find it very inconceivable for Namibia not to sign the agreement,” Moroka said regarding Namibia’s decision to raise concerns after having initialed the agreement.

Ivano Casella, the European Commission chief negotiator in the ongoing SADC- EU economic partnership agreement who was here two weeks ago with the Director General for trade, Giorgio Cocchi, poured praises on Botswana in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Standard in April in Brussels saying Botswana is  showing strong leadership in the ongoing negotiations.

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 duty free and quota free.

“Botswana has shown strong leadership in these negotiations. It┬á is one of the first countries from the SADC region to initial the agreement,” the Italian negotiator Casella said.
“Initialing is a very important step but now we have to move towards signing,” he┬á said, adding that Namibia has raised some objections.

“Namibia is putting itself in a very┬á 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┬á if they are not submitted through SADC. We are not negotiating with┬á a country but the region that is what we told them,” he said then.

However, Namibia has now decided to raise its concerns through ANS which Casella has labeled a pressure group.
Moroka also defended the need to protect the controversial infant industries and export taxes which ACP countries have been agitating for on the seven year period in which the negotiations have been held.

“Export taxes are very important for our material base and we will impose taxes in a very responsible manner,” Moroka said, but rejected the anti-globalisation movement’s call for abandoning the talks.

“The anti-globalisation should understand that the preference system was coming to an end by December 31 and be replaced by a new arrangement where there is reciprocity. It was not in any one’s interestÔÇö- not to the EU or Botswana ÔÇô not to initial the agreement.

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