AFRICANGLOBE – Namibia has just over 18 months to conclude controversial trade negotiations with the European Union or lose its duty- and quota-free access for beef, fish and grapes to EU markets.
Meeting in Brussels on Thursday, the EU Parliament’s International Trade Committee (INTA) drew the line: either Namibia – as part of African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) countries that haven’t yet signed the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) – signs the pact by 1 October 2014, or it will lose it preferential access to EU markets.
INTA was presented with two dates, that of October 2014 and 1 January 2016. Intense lobbying by countries like Namibia to get the latter date accepted, however, proved fruitless.
Although the 2014 deadline will officially only be adopted at the European Parliament’s plenary session from 15 to 18 April, INTA’s decision is final, Wallie Roux, head of research and development at the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU). told Namibian press. Namibia will now have to negotiate in earnest to meet the deadline, he said.
Namibia in 2007 provisionally initialled the interim EPA, but has been refusing to sign the agreement until issues regarding unfair competition are resolved. The EPA shouldn’t just boost trade, but also sustainable development in Namibia, Government has been maintaining. Namibia also repeatedly complained that the EU isn’t treating it as an equal partner.
The 2014 deadline is attainable, Roux said. However, Namibia now finds it in the precarious position that it has to conclude the EPA within the time limit and the European Commission (EC) might therefore not accommodate further concessions, he said.
According to Roux, Namibia’s main concerns about the EPA revolve around export taxes, safeguards for the agricultural sector and the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause. The latter will require Namibia to extend the same preferences to the EU it grants to third parties under future trade agreements.
Thursday’s decision by INTA signalled a turnaround in political will on the side of the EU to get the EPA signed and sealed.
The EC in September 2011 unilaterally decided to impose an EPA deadline of 1 January 2014. Namibia, together with other ACP countries, felt that this wasn’t enough time to negotiate fairly on the outstanding issues in the EPA before signing the trade pact and started lobbying for 1 January 2016 as the deadline.
On September 14 last year, the European Parliament voted to extend the deadline to 2016. However, about two weeks later the European Council endorsed the original date of January 1 2014.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, all three parties – the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament – have to agree on a deadline to be enforced.
At a trilogue meeting between the three parties earlier this month, a provisional agreement on 1 October 2014 as deadline was reached, with the condition of reconfirmation by the political groups in the European Parliament, followed by a formal adoption of the date by INTA last week.
By: Jo-Mare Duddy