Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tread carefully on EPAs - AU

BY NANCY MWAPE, Zambian Daily Mail

THE African Union says Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union (EU) should not comprise Africa’s efforts to integrate.

AU Deputy Chairperson, Erastus Mwencha said in an interview in Lusaka that integration was important for African countries to create a bigger market.

“Zambia has a population of about 10 million and this is not enough to use as a basis to compete globally. Integration is extremely important for our continent.

It’s a lif line and not a luxury. We need to work together and be part of the global economy,” he said.

Mr Mwencha said if EPAs would make it difficult for African countries to integrate, it was important to think twice on the agreement.

EPAs are a new development cooperation agreement involving the EU and Africa Caribbean Pacific countries.

It is meant to replace the Cotonou agreements to harmonise them with the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

“Whatever we do, be it under WTO or EPAs, it should not comprise our own integration. This is one worry we have with the EPAs. If it will make it difficult for Africa to integrate, we must think twice,” he said.

Mr Mwencha questioned the purpose of being linked to the global economy, if EPAs were making integration of African countries difficult.

He said Africa was already linked to the global market and was not benefiting from that linkage.

“What is important for Africa is to integrate, and this is something we must guard jealously,” he said.

He said there was need to make trading corridors efficient to facilitate exports and imports of goods at competitive prices.

Effective corridors would lead to successfully integrating the continent into the global economy.
He said transportation costs were a major hindrance to most African states, especially landlocked countries such as Zambia.

Mr Mwencha said Africa was uncompetitive because of high transport costs, inefficiencies in energy and high capital costs.

He said for Africa to be competitive globally, it must develop infrastructure and address concerns on peace and stability.

He said there was need to also develop efficient human resource and technology to make the continent competitive.

He said to facilitate implementation of identified infrastructure works, the region needed one master plan to be executed by regional economic communities.

He commended the Zambian government for implementing the Chirundu one-stop border post to improve trade in Southern Africa and hoped the Beit Bridge border post could take similar steps so that landlocked countries like Zambia were competitive.

Mr Mwencha also commended the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa for establishing a fund to implement infrastructure development.

He said Southern Africa Development Community and East African Community were also working on developing a similar fund to develop infrastructure.