STRASBOURG: A senior European Union (EU) official said here on Monday that the hotly debated issue of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) being negotiated between the world’s largest integrated block and SADC, amongst others, is meant to promote regional integration.
Bernard Petit, Deputy Director General of the DG Development of the EU, said here that the move is also in line with the World Trade Organisations (WTO) rules.
“The talk has been dogmatic in the academia and the media on how the poor countries of the Africa Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) could open their markets to the developed world,” wondered Petit. “For 30 years, the ACP had benefited from free market in the EU and we realised that they have now lost the market to Asia and India.”
Since 2006, the SADC-EPA group chaired by Botswana has been deadlocked on the repercussions of the deal with a couple of the countries in the region initialing the EPA for trade continuity purposes after the expiry date of the Contonua Agreement on 31 December 2007.
Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland signed the interim EPA with the European Commission at the end of 2007 to allow smooth flow of trade, while the full agreement is being sought. On the other hand, South Africa leaning against Trade, Development and Co-operation Agreement (TDCA) refused to initial the interim agreement arguing that SADC-EPA group was not reflective of the region that led to concerns of the break away Southern African Customs Union (SACU).
“Some agreements have been signed last year and we are in due process of finalising everywhere. Europe has no interest in trade, but wants integration in the ACP,” added Petit.
The Contonuo Agreement was found to be faulty since it excluded other countries, but Petit added that it “was important that they found the same regime” when the Contounou expired by December last year.
Petit added that the future of Africa is not about doing trade with the rest of the world, but it is all about regional integration.
He noted that in these negotiations, there were often conflicts of overlapping memberships with some of the SADC countries being members of another block like COMESA. Meanwhile, Petit has defended EU’s continuing development aid to Africa that some commentators have argued leads to underdevelopment in the developing world.
“For a country to develop, it needs aid,” Petit told Sunday Standard. “They need this aid to build capacity.” The UK has committed over 100, 000 pounds for capacity building to Botswana during the negotiations.
Meanwhile, Petit says he wishes that the Doha meeting on development funding coming by the end of this year should be successful although he expects confrontation. However, he advised the developing world to commit to a shared responsibility. He said the third world should fight corruption and be democratic.
“There is a risk of confrontation between the developed nations and poor nations over markets,” he noted. “If Doha fails, the ones to suffer most are developing nations. We should avoid that. The EU has an ambition for Doha to succeed.”