The European Union has given Botswana up to October next year to sign the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) or lose its privileged trade status tariffs.
Botswana, alongside six other African countries – Namibia, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Swaziland – face paying tariffs on exports to EU if they fail to honour trade agreements signed with Brussels in 2007.
The European parliament granted Botswana and the six African countries an extension until October 2014 to ratify their interim economic partnership agreements (EPAs).
The EPA allows countries to export goods to the EU without tariffs or maximum quotas, under World Trade Organisation rules. The countries benefited from the agreement without delays to avoid disrupting exports, principally towards Europe. In a regulation, the European commission permitted the countries to maintain their privileged trade status, already upheld in the Cotonou agreement, which expired in 2007.
Since then, the EU executive has taken a harder line. In 2011, it proposed suspending the agreement if the countries did not ratify the EPA by January 2014. The parliament voted in a strong majority to extend the deadline to October 2014.
Botswana, Namibia, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Swaziland have not completed the agreement. They risk falling into a stricter commercial regime if they fail to meet the deadline.
But some parliamentarians from the Greens and the Socialists and Democrats group felt the deadline should have been extended to January 2016 to allow more “breathing space”. The parliament had adopted that deadline in a first reading in September 2012.
This time EU lawmakers voted for a compromise deal found with heads of states and government in the European council.
“Allowing unilateral and free access to certain countries is a violation of the WTO’s rules and is clearly only a temporary solution … The time has come to fix a deadline,” said British Labour MEP, David Martin, who drafted parliament’s report.
“We regret that the parliament and the council of the EU did not accept our proposal to give these African countries enough breathing space in negotiations.”
Under the current agreement, the African countries benefit from very favourable terms compared with their international competitors for exports to Europe notably of certain food including bananas, tuna, beef and sugar.
Some Latin American and emerging countries have protested the exception at the WTO, labeling it as discriminatory.
To the secretary general of the ACP group, Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, the deadline harms the countries involved by forcing them to ratify interim EPA agreements that are counterproductive to regional integration. “The states are encouraged to trade with the EU but not among themselves,” he said.
Launched in 2002, negotiations over parallel regional EPAs are ongoing in five African sub regions. They aim to liberalise the trade in goods, as well as services, investment, and market access rules. But discussions have stalled on several points, including the suspension of free trade following human rights abuses.