Nam Firm on EPA

 

Windhoek ‑ Namibia has ruled out chances of renewing an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union if the trade deal does not promote Namibia’s ambitions to industrialise and integrate its economy with regional neighbours.

Namibia wants an economic partnership with the EU, which will result in growth of the country’s manufacturing industry while at the same time affording Namibian products equal access into the EU market.

Negotiations for a new trade deal between Africa and Europe have been troubled ever since they started in 2002. A new trade deal was supposed to have been in place in 2007 but progress stalled, as Europe stubbornly demands that its former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific open their doors to European goods and services in return for duty free access to European consumers and commodities markets.

Should Africa yield to EU demands, this will result in their economies being flooded with European goods and services, out competing and destroying nascent local industries.

“If the EPA has provisions that erode our policy space, it will make our position difficult and we will have no option but to look at alternative arrangements. There is need for some flexibility from the EU with regards to our policy space and other related matters,” Calle Schlettwein, Namibia’s Minister of Trade and Industry said in an interview.

The EU has given African economies up to October 1 this year to wrap up negotiations or lose preferential market access granted to countries, which refused to ratify the new EPA in 2007.

This means that if an agreement is not reached by October this year, duty free market access will be withdrawn.

Schlettwein said the October deadline was a “unilateral decision by the EU” maintaining that Namibia will not accede to a deal which promotes the status quo of continuously benefitting the EU.

“If EPAs does not give us enough policy space to industrialise, boost our economic growth to internationally competitive levels, to create employment, create more wealth and distribute that wealthy equally, then it won’t make sense to proceed with it,” Schlettwein stated.

While the EU remains an important market for Namibian beef, fish and grapes, the October deadline means it would become uncompetitive to export to the EU market, Schlettwein said.

Namibia has previously slammed the EU for bringing in new demands in the long-drawn negotiations and fresh proposals regarding intellectual property, competition, taxation, geographical indication, public procurement and sustainable development, further demanding binding commitments on areas, which Namibia argues, have not been discussed in depth.

Schlettwein maintained that Namibia would not be part to EPAs, which undermine regional integration processes and trade liberalisation efforts within southern Africa and the continent.

He said that the EU has not ‘shown flexibility’ on Namibia’s position on its intentions to industrialise, issues on safeguards in the agriculture and food sector. 

The stance by the EU is such that Namibian producers would end up competing with ‘heavily subsidised goods from the EU’.

“We need safeguards to equalise the playing field. Furthermore, the additional demands from the EU come with administrative costs which should not be shouldered by poor countries,” Schlettwein said.

Namibia values its trade ties within the SADC and SACU and will not allow the EU to derail efforts aimed at strengthening free trade processes.

“If we agree to EPAs as it is constituted, our relationships with SACU and SADC would become very, very difficult. We would have to forfeit the possibility of free trade area and a customs union if we have different EPA constitutions within SADC,” Schlettwein said.

The intransigence shown by the EU in the negotiations is a wake-up call for Namibia and the rest of African economies to broaden export markets. “We should very aggressively seek alternative markets to avoid single commodity, single market approach that makes our economy very vulnerable,” Schlettwein said.

February 2014
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