Saturday, July 11, 2009

EPAs not in Africa’s interest

Local civil society groups have said that Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, which are now being referred to as BLS countries in SADC’s Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) negotiations with the European Union (EU), signed the agreements under pressure from the European bloc.

They are the Kohemo Namibia Development Agency, the Labour Resources and Research Institute (LaRRI), the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), the National Youth Council (NYC), the Do O.D Southern Africa and TKMOAMS.

“We are disappointed that the BLS countries signed under pressure from the EU and wish to point out that the Swakopmund ‘agreed’ texts are not included in the interim EPA text,” the groups said in a joint statement this week.

They said during the last round of EPA negotiations in Swakopmund from 9 to 12 March, the EU and SADC countries “agreed” in some texts to move the negotiations forward. Two crucial issues however remained unresolved, namely the Definition of the Parties and the Most Favourite Nation ( MFN) clause. 19 other issues were also not discussed apparently because they were not in a “written format”.

Shortly after the Swakopmund meeting, the groups said, EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton on 20 March 2009 wrote letters to the SADC EPA members stating that she has done all she could to accommodate the ANSA ( Angola , Namibia and South Africa) concerns and that the countries should move towards the signing of the interim EPA. On 4 June the BLS countries signed the interim EPA, while Mozambique signed the agreement on 15 June.

“Instead the EU included two Joint Declarations in the Interim EPA that only refer to the Swakopmund texts. Despite having an uncertain legal status, these declarations are too vague to be legally useful if it comes to a dispute with the EU.
Given that the EU is only willing to incorporate the agreed texts in a final EPA, fears are that this would increase the EU’s leverage to get in the final EPA the whole range of other issues that the ANSA countries have long rejected as part of the EPA negotiations,” the groups said.

Given that the BLS countries are also members of the South African Customs Union (SACU), the civic organizations said, their signing of the interim EPA has brought about a discord between the SACU members.

“Thus EPAs are clearly part of a design new scramble for Africa and a divide and rule strategy by the EU threatening African Unity and Regional integration. South Africa has warned that it will strengthen customs controls for the BLS to safeguard its ailing clothing and textile industry. Under the EU-South Africa trade agreement a two stage manufacturing for textiles is required, while under the interim EPA only a single-stage manufacturing is required,” they said.

“The bullying tactics, as well as the divide and rule strategy, applied by the EU have to be condemned as they contradict any notion of partnership. We believe the issues raised by the Namibian government are valid and need to be addressed. We also support our government’s resistance to signing any agreement that will be detrimental to Namibia’s medium and long-term development objectives,” the groups added.