Peter Mandelson, the EU Trade Commissioner, issued a stern warning to Botswana and other ACP countries to commit themselves to a new trade deal before the end of the year saying otherwise he has “no hat and no rabbit to pull-out” to circumvent the World Trade Organisation rules.
The former British politician urged ACP governments to join the negotiations to successfully complete Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) by the end of the year.
His comments add to the growing impatience by Europe’s capital mandarins over lack of progress on the ongoing EPA negotiations; they blame it on some of the bigger countries within the ACP group such as South Africa.
“I have no hat, no rabbit to pull out of it.. If we have no trade regime in place by the end of the year the Commission has no legal option but to offer the region concerned Generalised System Preferences (GPS),” Mandelson said. “This deadline is not a bluff or some negotiating tactic invented in Brussels. It is an external reality created in the WTO in Geneva. We are committed to replace Contonou trade preferences with a new trade regime that does not discriminate against non-ACP developing countries. We have to do this by January 1, 2008.”
The ACP, a group of 78 developing countries from Africa, Caribbean and Pacific regions, is currently involved with their EU counter-parts to agree on a new trade arrangement with fewer incentives called Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that will replace Cotonou trade reference elapsing at the end of 2007.
Failure to meet the deadline, ACP region’s exports, such as beef from Botswana, will face high tariffs on the border of EU countries, like other beef from the non-ACP countries, thus stifling the country’s foreign revenue earnings.
He said the response from Africa remains a mixed bag as Central African countries understand what is at stake but in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a lot depends on South Africa’s take on the issue.
“It appeared to me before the summer break (before winter in southern hemisphere) that the role of South Africa in EPAÔÇöand indeed DDAÔÇöwas, I am afraid to say, deeply negative. They were preventing othersÔÇömuch less well of than them in the region, from moving forward,” Mandelson said.
He said South Africa was stalling the SADC/ EU, Economic Partnership Agreement because it had nothing to loose since it is already protected by its bilateral agreement with the EU while other members of SADC were not.
Regarding the situation in East and West Africa, he said the situation causes a real concern and was even compounded by regional groupings and configurations.
“It is disappointing that a few weeks from the effective deadline for concluding an EPA, those difficulties continue to hinder progress. I have spoken recently to those most concerned by these issues in Kenya and Tanzania. And all what I can do today is to reiterate my plea that these issues be resolved now,” he said.