|December 14, 2007
Country signs interim trade pact with EU
Namibia has signed an interim trade pact with the European Union - having refused to do so twice - after securing some provisional trade assurances from Brussels during "difficult" negotiations. "Ambassador Hanno Rumpf initialled the interim economic partnership agreement (IEPA) in Brussels on Wednesday night," Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Bernhard Esau told reporters and a large number of representatives of the farming sector. "However, we will continue negotiating on issues of concern to us like infant industry protection for our products and abolition of quantitative import restrictions for EU goods into Namibia."
This comes as a little surprise given the strong critizism African heads of government had voiced against the European Union’s trade policies – Economic Partnership Agreements in particular - during the recent EU-Africa summit in Lisbon.
Under the deal Namibia will obtain duty-free and quota-free access for any products it wants to export to the 27 EU member states, but it has to provide reciprocal market access for EU goods by July 1 2008, according to Esau. "This means that EU products will enter Namibia unhindered as well," Esau said. "We managed to obtain protection on some sensitive products like our beer (against EU imports), which we export into 26 different countries, but it was a battle (the talks)," the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Malan Lindeque stated. He described the last ten days of negotiations in Brussels and even during the EU-Africa summit in Portugal last weekend as "tough and difficult." The EU initially wanted the text of the interim EPA frozen and not re-opened, which meant that no changes to the wording drawn up by the EU authorities would be made. "Finally agreement could be reached on that point. All conditions and concerns from both sides will be revisited during the negotiations for the final EPA. It is not so easy to change people's minds," Lindeque said. "All the remaining concerns and issues are not impossible to address. Another tricky issue was the possibility of our country being swamped with subsidised EU cereals like wheat, since Namibia does not allow any wheat or maize imports until local produce is consumed. This is not supposed to continue under the proposed EPA, putting our local wheat and maize growers at a disadvantage. For the time being however, no EU cereal imports will happen until the final signing of the EPA, which must afterwards still be ratified by our Parliament. Only then the EPA will become binding." Negotiations on the final EPA might take a year to complete, Lindeque added.
The new market conditions from January 2008 would offer new opportunities but also major challenges to Namibia, the Permanent Secretary told the media briefing. "Namibian producers must expand their production base, they have to compete internationally with other countries exporting to the EU," Lindeque said. "Today's announcement is extremely important for the agricultural sector and our Government has achieved a very good compromise," Raimar von Hase, President of the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), told The Namibian. "Producers were very worried about a possible failure and that Government would not sign."
Namibia has so far exported N$3 billion worth of mainly fish, beef and grapes to the EU a year - approximately 500.000 tonnes of fish worth N$2 billion, 22.500 tonnes of table grapes (N$400 million) and 9.500 tonnes of beef (N$320 million).
(The Namibian, Windhoek)