ESA Region Keen to Conclude EPA Mission - Minister

The Times of Zambia, Ndola

ESA Region Keen to Conclude EPA Mission - Minister

4 March 2008

Commerce, Trade and Industry Minister, Felix Mutati, has reiterated Eastern and Southern African (ESA) countries’ commitment to conclude a comprehensive, inclusive and development friendly Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU).

Mr Mutati, who is the chairman of the ESA council of ministers under the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), said the ESA region had agreed to continue to engage the European Commission (EC), collectively as a group of 16 countries.

Mr Mutati said the ESA would work as a group as it considered regional integration important.

He said this during the ESA-EC joint council meeting at the COMESA secretariat in Lusaka yesterday, which was negotiating the EPAs.

He said following the November 2007, ministerial meeting, it was recognised that ESA countries could not conclude an EPA by the set deadline.

Mr Mutati said an interim agreement was, therefore, concluded in order to address issues of trade disruption while providing a framework to continue negotiations towards a full EPA.

The minister said there were, however, contentious issues in the interim agreement that needed to be addressed so that those who had not signed might do so and also come on board.

And EC commissioner for trade, Peter Mandelson, said the EC was committed to negotiate services and investment with flexibility with ESA countries.

Mr Mandelson said the move had to be consistent with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

"The EC is committed to negotiate services and investment with flexibility, with reciprocal but asymmetrical commitments, gradual and effective opening of markets," he said.

He said his delegation was in Zambia for discussions with the ESA under COMESA in order to build on what was achieved in the previous years.

He said the interim agreement had to be signed so that it became a legally safe text that the WTO recognised and which all the parties could implement in full.

Mr Mandelson said the interim agreement on the EPAs had allowed for non Least Developed Countries (LDC) like Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe to secure and improve their preferential access to the European markets.

The EU commissioner said the logic of the EPAs in terms of trade, growth and regional integration remained compelling. He said opting out of the EPA did not help regional integration.

Mr Mandelson said the long term and good ideas prevailed over the alternatives and that was why he was confident about the prospects of these agreements.

Ten out of 16 members of ESA have so far initialed the interim agreement.

Mr Mandelson said Zambia had initialed the agreement but was yet fully to table a market access offer.

He said the European Union (EU) could help Africa build effective regional cooperation by building into the agreements to realise the vision of regional integration.

Mr Mandelson said the other way the EU could help was through financial support.

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