Either in or out of EPA – EU tells Namibia

New Era | 08 Mar 2010

Either in or out of EPA – EU tells Namibia

by Desie Heita

WINDHOEK – The European Union has asked Namibia to stop skating on thin ice and make up her mind whether to be in or out of the Economic Partnership Agreement between the European Union (EU) and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

The EU says the current situation where Namibia has initialled but is refusing to sign the final agreement is “untenable” and is about to open a can of legal worms, from both the EU and the World Trade Organisation – the very institution on whose rules Namibia is arguing her case for not signing the final EPA.

“This situation cannot be sustained, the state of play is untenable,” the head of EPA unit at the trade directorate-general of the European Commission, Jacques Wunenburger, told a SADC-EU meeting in Maputo on March 1 and 2. The meeting discussed the impasse and status of the EU-SADC EPA agreement.

Not only is Namibia currently benefiting from an arrangement that she is objecting to, but the country is also violating serious EU and WTO rules and regulations on international trade. The country has enjoyed the duty-free quota free trade regime, since the initialling of the interim EPA along with Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique. However, Namibia broke ranks when it came to the signing of the final agreement in mid-2009 and has since refused to sign the EPA, citing reluctance on the EU’s part to give assurance that negotiations would continue until both sides reach a settlement on outstanding key issues that are of concern to Namibia. South Africa and Angola have decided to negotiate a broader regional agreement with the EU.

The EU has long maintained that it faces the possibility of a legal challenge over Namibia’s access to duty-free quota free – a treatment reserved for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries that have binding contractual agreements with the EU.

Wunenburger called on Namibia “to take a bold decision on its role in the EPA process”, saying Namibia’s delay to sign the agreement “is creating a very shaky legal situation”.

“Namibia, which initialled but did not sign the interim EPA, enjoys the same free access without any legally binding commitments. This is inconsistent and in fact contrary to both EU law and World Trade Organisation rules,” said Wunenburger.

Should Namibia decide not to be part of the EPA, the only other trade regime under which Namibian beef, and other products, would enter the EU, would be the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) where goods would attract about 14 percent of ad valorem and an additional couple of thousand euro per tonnage of goods entering the EU.

Namibia has maintained that it would not sign the EPA until it has received firm commitments from the EU that it would honour concerns that the EPA contain texts that could threaten the country’s regional integration efforts.

One of the concerns is with the Most Favoured Nation clause, a WTO clause requiring countries to treat all trading partners alike and that there is no discrimination between sources of supply.

Wunenburger said the “EPA SADC region is a strategic piece of the EPA puzzle, but it now stands at a crossroads”.

Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique, who are all in on the EPA agreement, are asked to complete their internal procedures so that the agreement can enter into force as quickly as possible.

“We think that development is at the heart of this process and we hope that businesses in southern Africa will make the most out of it,” said Glauco Calzuola, Head of the EU Delegation in Mozambique.

source: New Era