By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK There are fears that an increased demand for Namibian beef through economic partnership agreements (EPAs) may increase rural women’s workload and worsen rather than improve their livelihoods. The fact that women are engaged in traditional domestic activities, lack natural assets and are restricted by institutions and processes that prevent them from participation in and ownership of the beef industry, means that they are largely invisible in the lucrative cattle trade which contributes 11 percent to the country’s GDP. A research paper entitled, “Making trade work for women: The likely impact of EPA on women’s rights and gender equality focusing on the Beef Sector in Namibia”, says although women may not directly benefit from the EU market, they contribute to the intermediary local market through other means such as labour, which in turn fattens and exports the animals. However, the research paper which was edited by the Namibia Development Trust found that the impact of EPAs on the livelihood of the poor women, who form the backbone of subsistence farming, remains unclear. “There are a few statistics available on women’s involvement in Namibian exports and imports, or on gender roles in the agricultural sector, cattle ownership or women’s trade activities,” the research reveals. Women in Okakarara, who were interviewed in the research, expressed fears about the new agreements, which they said would increase their poverty as the numbers of cattle, which is their source of income, would dwindle. The study said women would face more problems than their male counterparts in shifting to tradables because production for the market can undermine household food security, and gender inequalities may be used to increase trade competitiveness through lower wages. Namibia as a member of the Africa Caribbean and Pacific group is party to the Cotonou Agreement, which grants these countries preferential treatment to European markets. And to comply with the World Trade Organisation, ACP countries are required to enter into negotiations of free trade agreements with the European Union, which gave rise to EPAs. The EPAs aim at developing the economy, reducing and eventually eradicating poverty, and the facilitating the smooth and gradual integration of ACP states into the world economy. Regardless of market access to the EU, most of Namibia’s basic mineral exports are allowed duty-free access to the EU market. However, agriculture and fisheries products are sensitive in that they have a high-level tariff protection and quantitative restrictions, which are used to manage access to the markets. The study lists the main issues in Namibia’s future trade negotiations with the EU as maintaining existing tariff preference exports beyond 2008 for fisheries exports and improving the existing trade preferences for beef products to allow customs duty, quota and special duty-free export of a wider range of beef and meat products. Included in the negotiations are government procurement, protection of intellectual property rights, investments and services. Characteristics affecting Namibia’s participation in the EPA negotiations include increased competition and loss of import revenue. In case producers want to increase their production, the Okakarara women suggested that women be given the right to determine and haggle over prices, farmers’ unions should build their capacity to assist farmers and act as their voice and that the government should facilitate market access, among many others. The study said although trade liberalization enhances free movement of goods and increases specialization according to a country’s comparative advantage, for this potential to be realized, trade policies should take into account the underlying cultural and social conditions that might prevent some members – particularly women – from enjoying benefits that trade has to offer. Some of the interventions that the research says would be necessary to ensure the EPAs alleviate poverty and help improve women’s lives include: developing a comprehensive rural development strategy that will increase rural employment through small and medium enterprises, improving small stock management, improving women’s participation in regional trade of beef, and also bettering safety nets for vulnerable groups. The other recommendations cited in the study are mainstreaming gender concerns through the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare which should be informed about the EPAs, women being supported as farmers and reducing income losses through reduced import tariffs.
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