Botswana will continue to benefit from the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with the European Union (EU), after member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) concluded negotiations with the EU over renewal of the EPA. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Banny Molosiwa last week revealed that EPA negotiations have been concluded and initialled by all key stakeholders. Molosiwa is also the coordinator of the seven member SADC group, which comprises Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa
“Negotiations have been concluded and all member states have initialled the EPA. These negotiations were protracted and very difficult, but I am happy to announce that finally all parties have reached an agreement,” she said.
She added since negotiations have been concluded and initialled, Botswana will benefit from the new EPA, which comes into effect on October 1, 2014. After the first EPA expired in 2000, an interim agreement was concluded in 2007 and signed in 2009 by Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique. The remaining SADC countries had refused to sign the interim agreement, saying they had numerous concerns that needed to be addressed first. Negotiations were rekindled in 2009 to fine tune the agreement and address concerns raised by the SADC member states. South Africa, for example, had concerns about improved market access. Other concerns involved rules of origin and cumulation, disagreements over the most favoured clause, export taxes and sustainable development. The other unresolved issue was about agricultural safeguards.
“Member states raised varied concerns about the EPA. But in the end it was all about compromise; win some lose some. What is important is that everyone is happy because we all took something home,” said Molosiwa.
She added that the agreement had been initialled by all member states, whose representatives will now head back home to brief their superiors and key stakeholders before the signing ceremony. Molosiwa and her negotiating team will brief Minister of Trade and Industry, Dorcus Makgato-Malesu about the finer details of the new agreement. Makgato-Malesu will then brief cabinet and other key stakeholders before reporting to President Ian Khama. A date will then be set for the signing ceremony. Botswana’s private sector was a key player in the negotiations and was represented at the National Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. All member states that have initialled the EPA will immediately be granted duty-free-quota-free access to EU markets. The EU is the SADC’s largest trading partner, with South Africa the most dominant player in terms of imports and exports.
Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and South Africa also export their diamonds to the EU. The EU is also a huge importer of Botswana beef, fish from Namibia and sugar from Swaziland. In return, the SADC imports goods like vehicles, pharmaceuticals, foods and machinery from the EU. The EPA’s are very important for Botswana. Trade between Botswana and the EU grew by more than 400 percent since the year 2000.
However, negotiations have been dragging on for too long and they were at times acrimonious. When the SADC countries dilly-dallied on signing a full agreement to replace the interim EPA, the EU put its foot down and delivered an ultimatum that all countries that had not ratified the EPA’s by October1, 2014 would immediately lose duty-free-quota-free access to EU markets. It seems the ultimatum buoyed the SADC countries into action, as Molosiwa last week announced that a deal had been reached, way before the October deadline. EU trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht visited Botswana last year to campaign for support as SADC countries dragged their feet. In Botswana, De Gucht held meetings with Vice President, Dr Ponatshego Kedikilwe and Minister of Trade and Industry, Dorcus Makgato-Malesu. Botswana was a strategic ally for the EU because the country holds the chairmanship of EPA SADC group while Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade, Banny Molosiwa coordinates the SADC negotiating team. Molosiwa said the initialling of the EPA will boost SADC’s regional integration efforts and complement the viability of SACU. She welcomed the EPA, saying now the SADC can focus on harnessing the opportunities presented by the Africa free trade area.