Peter Mandelson, the European Union trade commissioner, has urged the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states to double their efforts in a bid to get a full Economic Partnership Agreement by the end of the year.
Mandelson, who was in Gaborone on Tuesday, told a press conference at Phakalane Golf Estate that EPAs is all about boosting trade and the expansion of job creation which the southern Africa members states need in order to reduce poverty levels.
The EPAs are a new set of trade rules which replace a long standing preferential agreement between EU and the ACP countries which is being viewed as unfair by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), because it does not allow reciprocity.
“This is something which southern Africa is doing for itself with the help of the European Union. We need a partnership of equal partners,” Mandelson said.
His comments were made after a meeting with trade ministers from the six SADC member states of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. The meeting was aimed at trying to ramp up the EPAs negotiations which are being stalled by South Africa which has since raised some objection on certain issues. South Africa said it is not content with the trade and investment, protection of its infancy industries and the removal of export taxes among other things. However, Botswana, which is eager to diversify its economy, initialed the agreement towards the end of last year and has indicated that it is even ready to sign and ultimately ratify as early as August this year.
The initialing of the agreement enabled the Botswana Meat Commission to continue with the export of beef into the European market and has boasted investments from the EU which saw some diamond cutting companies establishing in Botswana.
The signing of the agreement is expected to see more European companiesÔÇöespecially in services and investmentÔÇöcoming into the country and help the Botswana International Financial Services Centre grow.
“EPA offers more value and we would like it to be concluded before the end of the year,” Mandelson said, pointing out that Angola has indicated that it wants to join the negotiations.
“We see EPA as a step forward towards regional integration,” he said, adding that countries that want to attract investment will have to join.
Neo Moroka, the Minister of Trade, told the press conference that South Africa has confirmed its commitment to the talks but its concerns will be examined during the year. But that does not mean that it will get a better deal than other member states.
“We made an agreement which has been initialed as an international agreement. The implementation will go ahead,” Mandelson said but ruled out the possibility of re-opening fresh negotiations with countries that have raised concerns.
“There is no way of re-opening the process that has already been negotiated. There is earnest desire and commitment to eradicate poverty in this continent,” he added.
Countries that have not initialed the agreement stand the risk of operating under GPS, which means they will have to pay higher duties for their goods to enter the European market.
In South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki, who met with Mandelson before arriving in Botswana, told parliament his government will continue to engage with the EU and hopes that EPAs will not negatively affect regional integration.
“It is a matter that remains very much on the agenda, not only for us as a region, but the continent as a whole.
“We want to pursue the decision …. that there should be engagement to make sure that the economic partnership agreement does not act as an obstacle to the achievement of the goal of regional integration on our continent and African unity,” he told parliament.