…Ratification deadline set for October
The recently sealed Economic Partnership Agreement(EPA) between the European Union and SADC was hailed by many, but the Federal Republic of Germany has its reservations, with lawmakers claiming the agreement counteracts Europe’s development policy efforts. Representatives from Namibia joined their regional counterparts in Gaborone last Friday for the final signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) of the European Union with the SADC member states. This follows signing by the EU during the session of the Foreign Affairs Council earlier this year in Brussels. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Africa Commissioner, Günter Nooke issued harsh criticism of the EU’s joint free trade deal with multiple African countries, claiming the EPA counteracts Europe’s development policy efforts. “Economic negotiations should not destroy what has been built up on the other side in the Development Ministry”, Nooke commented in an interview with German public broadcaster ARD. Andrew Mold, the UN’s economic analyst for East Africa, said he sees the African economy as being threatened by the agreement in the long-term. “The African countries cannot compete with an economy like Germany’s. As a result, free trade and EU imports endanger existing industries, and future industries do not even materialise because they are exposed to competition from the EU,” Mold commented.
Member of the European Parliament Michael Gahler defended the EPA, saying it offers African countries the chance to strengthen their own markets. In addition, the Christian Democrat pointed out, the agreement plans to create “flexible mechanisms”. African governments are not obliged to implement precise requirements until after 20 years, he pointed out. The European Commission has emphasised that 20% of domestic African products will remain protected in the long-term. In conjunction with development aid, the EPA could help partner countries create jobs and increase political dialogue with the EU, the Commission indicated. But the World Trade Organization (WTO) declared this one-sided market opening unlawful in 2000. In response, the EU concluded the Cotonou Agreement in 2007 with 79 African countries (AKP countries).
Since then, Europeans have been in negotiations with Africans over the corresponding free trade agreements.
37 less developed countries receive customs-free access to the European market even without the free trade agreement. The EU concluded the so-called “Everything but Arms” Agreement with these states. Under the agreement, they are allowed to export all products, other than weapons, into the EU without having to pay tariffs. As a result, these countries do not face economic consequences if they choose not to join the EPA. But according to Green MEP Ska Keller, the EPA hurts regional trade, and does not leave partner countries any room to develop their own industries, create jobs and thereby pull people out of poverty. “Developing countries have a gun pointed at their chest – either they sign or their market access to the EU is restricted,” Keller said, “the EPA is the opposite of development cooperation.”
Final ratification has been for 1 October 2016.
By ratifying the EPA, Namibia and other SADC member countries will enjoy the duty-free export of goods to Europe. Trade negotiations have dragged on longer than necessary, with the EU raising fears of an influx of African agricultural products, which it argued posed a danger to its own farming and manufacturing industries. The European market is key to Namibian fisheries products, beef and grapes, and without a deal, the country and its neighbours in the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU). EU Ambassador to Namibia Jana Hybaskova recently said Namibia and the European Union will continue to enjoy the good working relationship which started two decades ago. Over the past 25 years, the EU has provided Namibia with grants of more than N$1.7 billion. Namibia became a signatory to the agreement alongside South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Botswana, a move seen as a great achievement in the trade agenda and economic relations between the EU, African Union (AU), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states. Minister of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development, Immanuel Ngatjizeko told the media that the agreement ensures that the SADC EPA group will provide duty free and quota free market access to Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Mozambique, while South Africa will have improved preferential treatment for their products over and above trade and development cooperation agreements into the EU market. Currently, Namibia exports beef, grapes and fish to the EU markets but the minister called on Namibian entrepreneurs to explore new avenues and expand the country’ s export basket.
Namibia has now succeeded in securing a market for various products and the challenge now rests with producers in the country to ensure timeous and ready supply exports goods. The minister called upon entrepreneurs and businesses to up efforts so Namibia can access these markets.