October 8, 2010

Government changes course on Europe Trade Pact

South Africa is likely to conclude an economic partnership agreement (EPA) by the end of this year with the European Union (EU) as a member of the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu), International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said. This signals a major shift from South Africa's former opposition to the deal.

South Africa and Namibia belong to the five-member union, and both had reservations about signing an EPA with the EU. Botswana and two smaller members of Sacu, Lesotho and Swaziland, signed interim EPAs with the EU 2009.

"We can indeed conclude this EPA by the end of this year as long as they (the EU) do not bring new issues on the table," Ms Nkoana-Mashabane said, adding that Sacu was now negotiating with "one voice". However, she would not say whether the interim EPAs of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland were now null and void. Nkoana-Mashabane also criticised the EU for negotiating the EPAs on a bilateral level with member countries although Sacu was a bloc.

So far, South Africa has not agreed with the EU on a range of issues such as intellectual property rights, a most favoured nation clause, regulatory and new generation issues. Furthermore, there was also concern that vulnerable industries such as the manufacturing sector may be hardest hit by the dumping of cheap EU goods in the customs union. President Jacob Zuma has also indicated that South Africa was willing to resolve the impasse over the EPA amicably with the EU. (Business Day)

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