Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Germany urges Namibia to sign EPA

Ndjebela, Toivo (New Era, Windhoek)

Germany this week urged Namibia to sign the controversial Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) as the deadline for the trade agreement draws near.

Speaking at an occasion of the Day of German Unity held in Windhoek on Wednesday, German Ambassador Egon Kochanke said that “it is in Namibia’s best interest” to sign the trade pact, which the country has thus far refused to initial.

“We realise what a failure to ratify the interim agreement would mean for the Namibian economy”, Kochanke said, without divulging the details of the perceived consequences for not signing the deal.

The Namibian government maintains that its conditions should be considered before the agreement is signed, a stance that has provoked fear in some quarters of the country’s economy. The agricultural sector, the leading goods exporter to the EU, is among those who have kept their fingers crossed, hoping Government would change its position on the matter.

Namibia’s top exports to Europe include beef, grapes, and dates. The fate of the country’s beef remains in the balance, with leading exporters fearing the consequences if Government decides not to sign the deal.

Kochanke praised the EPA at the event on Wednesday evening, arguing that the trade pact would provide Namibia with cheap access to the European market.

“The full establishment of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union and SADC members is to provide duty and quota free access for exports from African countries to the European markets, putting trade at the service of development”, he said.

The country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marco Hausiku, who also officiated at the event, said that Namibia is “very serious” about the EPA, but maintained that talks are still ongoing with a view to reach consensus with the EU on the matter.

“We are very serious about the EPA and we fully understand the process. We will make our position known when the time is right to do so”, he said.

Minister of Trade and Industry Hage Geingob has in recent months indicated that Government will not be rushed into signing the deal because in its current form, the deal may have far-reaching consequences for the economic future of the country.

Namibia holds that opening reciprocal market access to European business as provided in the EPA would put Namibia in a disadvantaged position as the country cannot compete with industrialised European manufacturers.

A further concern is that Namibia’s initialling of the full EPA could cause the ruin of the country’s infant industries, which still need government protection.

Namibia is one of two Southern African Customs Union (SACU) members who have so far refused to sign the agreement, the other country being South Africa. SACU’s other three members – Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland – signed the interim EPA some four months ago.