By Catherine Sasman
SADC delegates meeting in Gaborone, Botswana last week agreed that the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (IEPA) is a “stepping stone towards a more comprehensive agreement expected to be concluded towards the end of this year.
“The main objective of the EPA must be to consolidate the regional integration process and to foster growth and development in the region, as well as to establish a new and WTO-compliant [World Trade Organisation] legal basis for governing bi-regional trade relations,” said the joint declaration arrived at by SADC EPA states and Peter Mandelson, the European Trade Commissioner.
Minister of Trade and Industry Immanuel Ngatjizeko represented Namibia at the meeting.
It is understood that this gathering was the crunch time for the region, as it appears to be disintegrating amidst the growing pressure the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) is placed under around the EPA negotiations.
The meeting said the full EPA should lead to the consolidation of the regional and development dimension of the EPA.
The joint statement said it also acknowledged the concerns raised by Namibia and South Africa on the IEPA that may negatively impact aspects such as regional integration, development and political space.
The statement expressed hope that those countries that have not yet joined the bi-regional agreement would do so.
“This will ensure greater coherence between the SACU and SADC regional integration processes and help to streamline EU trade relations with countries in Southern Africa, with a view of achieving, in the future, a harmonised trade regime,” the statement said.
Economic powerhouse of the region, South Africa, had refused to sign the IEPA so far, but the countries present at the Gaborone meeting committed themselves to the process of negotiating the full EPA, and to examine the concerns to be identified by the SADC EPA region.
Angola underlined the importance for them to remain part of the EPA process with the interim intention of acceding to the full EPA once the agreement has been concluded.
“Both sides [SADC EPA countries and the EU] are ready to continue negotiations on all issues in 2008, leaving the door open for all countries to join the agreement,” the joint statement went on.
The SADC EPA states are to work towards applying this agreement from July 1 “at the latest”.