EU in last push for Namibia’s EPA

New Era | 17 May 2010

EU in last push for Namibia’s EPA

by Toivo Ndjebela

WINDHOEK – Namibia’s continued reluctance to sign the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union could result in the country losing almost half of its export market, a European diplomat has warned.

Namibia’s leading meat exporter, Meatco, could also lose about 40 percent of its annual total sales value if the trade ties that bind Namibia with the EU are cut.

These are but some of the potential risks that Namibia could face as a result of failure to sign an interim EPA, according to Dr Elisabeth Pape, Head of the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Namibia.

Pape’s remarks, made recently at the commemoration of Europe Day in Windhoek, re-open the debate on whether or not Namibia should put pen on dotted lines on an EPA deal that would result in the country opening a reciprocal market for European products.

Meatco, for example, which enjoys superior market domination in Namibia, would face competition from European beef, probably subsidised by their countries of origin, once a reciprocal market is opened in Namibia.

Pape said sales to the EU accounted for about 40 percent of Meatco’s total sales value in 2009, “translating into higher income for many farmers, also in the communal areas”.

Europe, which currently exports only about 10 percent of its products to Namibia, intends to expand the presence of its products in the country, amidst fears by authorities here that the deal would bear negatively on local products, while so-called infant industries could face extinction.

Pape, however, insisted that Namibia could lose out on a lucrative market in Europe for most of its priciest commodities, if timely consensus is not reached on signing EPA with Namibia.

“Namibia traditionally exports much more to the EU than vice-versa and nobody expects this to change in the near future.

“People in the EU love Namibian diamonds and other minerals, beef, grapes and fish, to name just a few of the major goods exported,” Pape said.

A recent World Trade Organisation (WTO) review shows that almost half of Namibia’s export goods are destined for the EU and this, according to Pape, is an indication of how important it is for Namibia to maintain its EU market through signing the EPA.

Namibian products currently enjoy a duty-free, quota-free access to the 500 million-people EU market, but Europe now contends for a level playing field with its major African, Caribbean and Pacific trade partners.

The current trade relations that Namibia has with Europe have no legal basis as per the provisions of the WTO and the EU, Pape says, is growing uncomfortable with the current situation.

“A signed EPA by all five SADC countries involved – and only Namibia’s signature is missing – will allow notification to the WTO and regularisation of the situation,” Pape said.

Pape acknowledged that the interim EPA “is not perfect”, but maintains it is “good enough as a rescue package”.

There is still no indication of Namibia’s willingness to sign the interim EPA, with government insisting that the country is, at international level, still an infant in as far as trade is concerned and therefore cannot compete at the same level with major European economies.

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source: New Era