WHAT does the future hold for Namibian producers, the farmers who produce beef, the workers whose livelihood – albeit not luxurious admittedly – depends on farm work? It is time that Namibia gives fresh impetus and a sense of direction on the negotiations with Europe on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Equally important, Namibia has to stand up to South Africa, strike a deal with our big brother neighbour, a deal that does not leave Namibia a lesser and unequal partner in the EPA.
Negotiating such a deal requires canny and astute negotiators with foresight and good judgment, given that South Africa has long established itself as the supreme economic force with the final say within the Southern Africa Customs Union.
The manner in which Namibia deals with South Africa now, as a SACU member state, will determine our capability to deal with regional integration at Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) level.
Let us not lose cognisance of the looming 2014 deadline for an EPA and the fact that Europe is not going to change her mind. If anything, Europe with her very sharp negotiators is likely to spring another surprise on our negotiating team.
Indeed, the government’s position on outstanding issues regarding the EPA is understandable, in light of the fact that this is going to be long-term deal, which is bound to affect future trade with other countries as well as our industries. However, Europe is a crucial market, even though Namibia does not want to publicly admit that.
Namibia exports products worth about 600 million Euros (about N$6,33 billion at the current exchange rate) to Europe. Beef, fish and grapes constitute half of that amount. The exports enter Europe duty free, and will continue to, when the EPA is signed.
Failure to sign the EPA would result in Namibia paying handsomely – about N$633 million in duties alone – for all products entering the EU come January 2014. Europe has already changed the rules of the game by using the World Bank classifications of countries according to development ranking.
This redefined the current list of beneficiary countries, as the preference accorded a look at the “countries in need”, and Namibia being ranked as a “lower middle-income country”, instead of a “low-income country”, is not on the list of “countries in need.”
The new EU focus has already seen the list of beneficiary countries cut from the current 176 to 80 countries. It also means that Namibian goods – beef, fish and grapes – would have to be subjected to stricter tax and duties when entering Europe, unless the country signs the EPA.
In the absence of an EPA, Namibia has to go through the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), with much less favourable access than we currently enjoy, and less comprehensive coverage. The GSP excludes beef and table grapes which are important exports to the EU from Namibia.
With only one year to go before the deadline, the finalisation of an EPA has become critical for Namibia in order to maintain our existing markets in the EU.
Namibian negotiators should use the scheduled meeting in a fortnight as the last resort. It is our chance to reach consensus on outstanding issues, which have blocked the signing of the EPA. Yes, we might not sign the EPA by September this year, but can we at least be ready for it by April next year.