Namibia keeps EU guessing on EPA

New Era | 23 February 2010

Namibia keeps EU guessing on EPA

by Toivo Ndjebela

WINDHOEK – The European Commission’s (EC) delegation in Namibia says it is “not confident” that the country would sign the full Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union, amidst a looming deadline and a possible loss of up to N$3 billion in export revenues.

After a brief break, the resumption of the negotiations on signing the full EPA is pencilled in from March 26 to 30 in Brussels, Belgium, and there is no indication that defiant Namibia will put pen on the dotted line before her demands for signing the agreement are met.

Head of the EC in Namibia Dr Elizabeth Pape told New Era upon inquiry last week that the “continuation of the status quo is not a solution” and something has to be done this year about the pending issue.

Pape however said the European delegation in Namibia is almost throwing in the towel in convincing the country to sign the disputed trade agreement.

“We are not confident that Namibia will sign, given the many negative statements we have heard and read,” Pape said.

By “negative statements” Pape is probably referring to remarks made last year by sections of the country’s business and civil society fraternities, which saw the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) accusing the EU of “bully tactics” and of harbouring a “divide-and-rule strategy”.

In June last year, Trade and Industry Minister Dr Hage Geingob said Namibia showed its commitment towards the deal when it initialled the Interim EPA, but charged that Europe has failed to put her assurances to paper.

Government says after the heated negotiations at Swakopmund in March last year, the EU promised to address Namibia’s concerns, which include protection of infant industries, food security and export taxes, but no written assurance has been received from Brussels yet.

Whether Namibia’s concerns would be on the agenda in Belgium next month is yet to be seen, but Pape has said that the promise by the EU to look into Namibia’s concerns still stands.

“We assured Namibia repeatedly of our commitment to honour the texts agreed in Swakopmund for the final EPA,” she said, but Government sees this as cheekiness in the face of reluctance to put this assurance in black and white.

“We respect that Namibia is a sovereign nation and at the end of the day will have to make its sovereign decision whether it wants to sign or not,” Pape said, adding that there has been no formal talks between the EU and Namibia for a while.

More uncertainty lies in the fact that the EU has appointed a new Commissioner for Trade, Karel de Gucht, who took office on February 9. He is the new man to lead EPA negotiations with countries that have initialled the controversial trade deal.

Pape said De Gucht would “define his own approach towards EPAs and how to deal with countries which have initialled but not signed an interim agreement.”

Namibia, through a quota-free access, exports beef, fish and table grapes to the EU, jointly worth N$3 billion a year. The country would however lose free access if it snubs signing the full EPA.

New Era understands that South American exporters of beef such as Brazil are keeping an eagle’s eye on the situation between Namibia and the EU, with the aim of snatching the beef market from Namibia to Europe.

Signing of the full EPA would open a reciprocal market access in Namibia to European products, but Government insists the country is not yet at the level of competing at the same level with the industrialised West, as this would have serious repercussions on the country’s economic future.

source: New Era