HARARE-Troubled Zimbabwe began counting the costs of the uncertainty in the country when the Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) shifted to Zambia, at the eleventh hour, a technical meeting previously scheduled for Zimbabwe.
The 6-7 May meeting, which ended in Lusaka on Wednesday, was supposed to have been held in Victoria Falls in between the COMESA summit.
Last month, Zimbabwe postponed the convening of the COMESA summit to a later date due to the necessity to fulfill constitutional requirements as a result of the recently-held harmonized elections.
Zimbabwe, which will assume chairmanship of COMESA, was scheduled to hold the summit in Victoria Falls from 1-15 May.
COMESA then swiftly moved the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs) technical meeting to its headquarters in Lusaka.
The meeting ironed out the remaining issues for the conclusion of reciprocal trade agreement between African Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP) and the European Union.
ACP countries are negotiating for EPAs with the EU.
Issues discussed at the meeting were those outstanding for the conclusion of a full EPA by the end of the year.
They included issues in the rendezvous clause such as services, investments, trade facilitation, sanitary provisions, technical barriers, sustainable development, trade and environment, competition, intellectual property, agriculture and development.
It also included issues of interest to the ESA region that it wishes to re-open in the market-access field.
Zimbabwe is a member of the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) that is negotiating for reciprocal trade agreement in line with the World Trade Organisation rules.
The meeting was attended by representatives from the European Commission and ESA region.
A follow up meeting will take place in Brussels with a senior officials’ meeting organised back to back with the June technical meeting.
ACP countries used to enjoy unilateral trade preferences with the EU for almost three decades under the Lom├® Conventions.
The Fourth Lom├® Convention was replaced by the Cotonou Partnership Agreement in 2000, which extended these unilateral trade preferences up to the end of 2007.
But because most African countries were unable to conclude comprehensive EPAs they opted for interim agreements in order to avoid trade disruption that could result from failure to conclude WTO compatible arrangements by the deadline of 31 December, 2007.
To date, the EU has concluded EPA talks with the Caribbean bloc while in Africa it has finished interim EPAs with regional blocs and individual member countries.
Full EPAs will have to be concluded by the end of the year.