Wednesday, October 21, 2009

COMESA challenges EU on its economic partnerships with Africa

Ncube, Sarah (The Zimbabwe Telegraph, Harare)

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has challenged the European Union (EU) to devise a realistic, practical, and honest approach in its economic partnerships with Africa.

According to a statement, COMESA Secretary General Sindiso Ngwenya said that often the rules and demands of multilateral agreements and economic partnerships negotiations are unrealistic.

“Those who have developed make the rules, climb the ladder and once up remove it and expect you to climb without it. They expect us to climb at the same pace when the ladder is no more there… they have gone through the same paths but expect us to simply somersault over. Quite often we find this approach dishonest”, said Ngwenya.

The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) should be based on rules of origin that improve market access for African countries into the EU, he said.

“The EPAs should be realistic, practical and honest” as well as “transparent and simple to use. As they are today, however, this is not the case”, Ngwenya said.

The balance of trade favours the EU, Ngwenya said.

“If one removes petroleum products, the gap becomes increasingly visible. For example COMESA exports to the EU (less petroleum products) in 2001 were $4.1 billion and in 2008 had climbed to just $11 billion, on the other hand EU’s exports to COMESA that were only US$ 7 billion (in 2001) have been able to accelerate to $32 billion in 2008”, he said.

Trade and investment in Africa is hampered mainly by the high costs of doing business, and the lack of a level playing field for the continent’s business community to trade with that of the EU.

Ngwenya said there is need to review the partnership approach in order to include the support of the private sector.

A number of African countries ratified the EPA with the EU last month. The agreements are aimed at providing trade opportunities to developing countries which export their products into the EU at reduced tariffs, as well as providing other incentives to ensure developing countries access the market.