Members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), who have initialed the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), are regrouping in Maseru early next month to try to find a common ground ahead to a full blown negotiation with the European Commission.
The new developments come at a time when there are some serious concerns about Namibia and South African participation in the talks as both countries have raised concern about EPAs.
“We are scheduled to meet in Lesotho on May 6-9. The idea is to find a common ground before the second phase of negotiations with the EC start,” a close source said in Gaborone on Friday.
“The way the Namibians have handled the negotiations has been careless. They came with a lot of demands but no concessions. They wanted to take a similar position like South Africa,” sources said. The SADC countries, which include Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland, initialed the agreement in November last year but South Africa, which came with extortinate demands, declined to initial. However, South Africa, which is the regional economic powerhouse, has a separate agreement with the EU.
The EU has embarked on marathon new trade negotiations with the 78 poor members of the Africa Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP), which are aimed at having a reciprocal trade arrangement known as EPAs.
Under the agreement, all goods from ACP countries enter the EU market duty and quota free while, in return, EU goods will have access to the ACP countries. Further, the move is expected to stimulate trade among the ACP countries as trading rules will be simplified.
That alone is expected to result in economic diversification and increased trade, investment with the long term view of creating jobs and alleviating poverty. SADCÔÇôEU’s second phase of negotiations focusing on services and investment are scheduled to run from May 19-21 in Brussels.
“Namibia is part of the negotiations but their concerns do not have any base. Their main argument is that they want to protect their infant industries. But that could be addressed alongside the main negotiations rather than stalling progress,” he added.
Avano Casella, the EU’s chief negotiator with SADC, told The Sunday Standard last week in Brussels that they can only attend to Namibia’s concerns if they are brought through SADC.
The disagreement with the SADC grouping is worrying most of the observers as it is likely to threaten the spirit of regional integration. The current tensions in the ongoing negotiation exposes the long and deep seated concerns within the region where South Africa has been bullying other countries when they raise issues of common policy such as the industrial policy.
“South Africa is coming with a lot of demands and wants to use other SADC countries to achieve its objectives. What we find surprising is that they want to benefit alone. They are less interested in other developing countries like Botswana.
“They do not want us to come up with a common industrial policy which will make it easier to defend as a region.
“They want to put us in a position where we will find ourselves having to protect South Africa’s interests. They are stalling the negotiations because they want the lion’s share,” sources said.
Last week, Peter Mandelson, the European Commission trade commissioner urged Africa Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to ramp up the signing of the economic partnership agreements (EPAs) in a bid to duck-out from the legal wrath of the World Trade Organisation.
Speaking to journalists at European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Mandelson said while the initialing of the agreements was an important step now there is a need to speed-up the signing so that it becomes a binding legal document.
“ If we do not do anything by summer, others are going to ask the legality of the agreements. We have to do so before we get challenged in Geneva,” he said.
Namibia has raised some objections as it tries to protect its infant industries which are in the diamond polishing and uranium development. It has since been told to bring its complaints through SADC- rather than coming to the EU.
“We are negotiating with a region not a country. We told them that they should bring their concerns through SADC,” Casella said, adding, “We can negotiate with them alone. We are not going to re-open negotiation for them and we can give them a deal which is different from others.”
EPAs negotiation started seven years ago as the Geneva-based organisation WTO started to define the new rule of international trade.
EPAs will, on the initial stages, ensure that sensitive industries in the developing countries are protected until they have come of age. WTO’s free trade regime will start in 15 years where trade without reciprocity will be viewed as illegalÔÇö a move which led to the phasing-out of preferential treatment which was enjoyed by Botswana beef for ages.
Part of the EPAs is to ensure that meaningful investment is created in the developing country something which preferential treatment had failed to address.
“We have taken long in theses negotiations because some countries wanted to take their time. But now, we do not have time and we have no alternative,” Mandelson said.