Minister of Trade Vincent Seretse left for Brussels, Belgium on Monday to attend meetings of the Africa Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) and Joint ACP-European Union (EU) Ministerial Trade Committee (JMTC). The meetings will run from the 24th to 26th June.
They will be preceded by the negotiation and implementation meetings of the ACP’s follow-up group on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), which will run from 22nd to 23rd June. The Joint ACP-EU Ministerial Trade Committee (JMTC) meeting will take place from June 24th to 26th, and will consider the state of play in the ACP-EU Economic Partnership Agreements negotiations. The Ministers will further consider the implementation issues for EPAs and Interim EPAs as well as trade related issues between the ACP and EU countries. Seretse, who is the Coordinator of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) EPA Group, will among others provide an update to other parties on progress made in the EU-SADC EPA negotiations. In addition, he will advance Botswana’s position on other trade related issues within the agenda of the meetings.
SADC and ACP member states have already initialed the new EPA’s with the EU, which immediately granted them 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 SADC and ACP countries took a long time to initial the EPA’s as they insisted that the EU should institute strong instruments for development, assist to build competitiveness within their member countries and foster regional integration. They also wanted the EPAs to address supply side and trade related infrastructure constraints in order to build export capacity and improve trade with EU countries. While the SADC and ACP countries were wary of opening their markets to the more powerful EU industries, they were not ready to forfeit the huge donor funding that the EU doles out to them.
While initialing the EPAs was widely considered a welcome development, not many EPA and SADC countries have been able to fully exploit the duty free quota free market access because of serious barriers to trade imposed by the EU, among them strict production standards that are often difficult and costly to abide by. The EU has also imposed stringent rules of origin, which require products from SADC and ACP to have predominantly local components to be granted duty free quota free access to EU markets. From Brussels, Seretse will attend the Bi-National Commission in Pretoria, South Africa on June 29th. The inaugural bi-national commission was held in South Africa in 2013. The two countries have signed a number of agreements on transport, immigration, defence and security, energy, trade, and the environment. They have also committed to prioritizing cross border projects that have the potential to increase and ease movement of goods and services for their mutual benefit.