Economic Partnership Agreements Debate Stirs Controversy in Zimbabwean Parliament

The debate on whether Zimbabwe should embrace Economic Partnership Agreements yesterday stirred controversy with some legislators alleging that it was a neo-liberal colonial agenda being pushed by the West.

The EPAs are a scheme to create a free-trade area between the European Union Commission and the African, Carribean and Pacific group of countries.

Some members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade questioned the scheme, saying it was a ploy to smuggle back the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme which condemned many Zimbabweans to poverty and de-industrialisation.

It was also noted that Zambia which chaired one of East and Southern Africa meetings where EPAs were discussed was reluctant to sign the agreement.

However, Zimbabwe Investment Authority chief executive Mr Richard Mbaiwa said Zimbabwe stands to benefit from the partnerships despite the likelihood of de-industrialisation if adopted.

Mr Mbaiwa was giving oral evidence before the committee chaired by Zaka East legislator, Cde Samson Mukanduri (Zanu-PF).

He said EPAs were important for Zimbabwe to open foreign markets.

“The benefits of these partnerships is that our products will get preferential treatment because it is meant to achieve trade and economic co-operation.

“As far as we are concerned, EPAs provide a platform for facilitating investment in the country.

“There are benefits of liberalisation and we want investors to have market access.” Mr Mbaiwa said negotiations were still underway.

He, however, indicated that Zimbabwe would have to comply with European standards.

Mr Mbaiwa acknowledged that there would be negative implications to the arrangement like competition.

“The issue of standards is key in this arrangement because we will have to produce goods which are competitive and so far we are happy that the SAZ (Standards Association of Zimbabwe) is assisting local companies to comply with international standards.

“We acknowledge that the current state of our industry is not able to withstand the competition once we are signatories. We will have an influx of imported goods against what is exported,” he said.

However, Hwange Central MP, Mr Brian Tshuma (MDC-T) said EPAs were the same with Esap. He argued that the general populace would not benefit from the arrangement.

“These EPAs should have nothing to do with the elites because we are dealing with bread and butter issues. They have to benefit the people in the rural areas.

“EPAs are just an extension of Esap and these policies are crafted in the West and are vigorously marketed in countries in the South,” he said.

Mr Mbaiwa responded: “I don’t talk on non-researched opinion. From an investment perspective we need foreign direct investment.”

The response did not gone down well with Mr Tshuma who protested, as he felt that he was being belittled.

Cde Mukanduri questioned the wisdom of pursuing liberalisation when industry was still trying to find its feet.

“Liberalisation brings a lot of competition, what is going to happen to our infant companies which cannot compete with those European companies? As ZIA you should do a thorough job in assessing the impact of such partnerships because we had the same problem when we adopted Esap.

“A lot of people were advising us against it and when we adopted it, it caused untold suffering to our people.

“We also want the general people to have an impact in this partnership. People should be consulted. As Parliament we will not ratify something that has not been debated by the people. When you negotiate for these partnerships, we want our national interests to be protected,” he said.