April 5, 2011

Lesotho and Swaziland signed EPA "under duress", says Dlamini / All SADC countries must speak one language, he urges

According to the Speaker of Swaziland’s House of Assembly, Prince Guduza Dlamini, brother of King Mswati III and speaker of the House since 2006, Swaziland and Lesotho signed the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) under duress. He said both countries signed it [in 2009] because they had certain export quotas to the EU. He noted that the EPA sowed a seed of confusion in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). "SADC signed trade protocols for its members, which are binding. The parliamentary conference on trade and EPA which was held in Botswana in the previous weeks came up with numerous recommendations regarding trade in the region. One being that governments in the SADC region must involve civic society and parliamentarians in EPA negotiations," he said.

Dlamini emphasized that the advent of EPAs did not allow membership to more than one trade group. He said they realised that within SADC there were members of the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) as well as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). He noted that as much as the countries were trying hard to address the EPAs, the SADC region was still disintegrated. He noted that Swaziland and Lesotho were subject to fail in the implementation of the EPAs as there was no way they would transport goods since South Africa did not allow such as it was subjected to SACU rules. Dlamini also said that the signing of the EPA was no longer in the SADC protocol. He emphasised that the EPA would be unworkable as it was anti the economic regional agenda signed through the SADC trade protocol.

As University of Swaziland Lecturer Dr. Kabura had emphasized before, countries that wanted to sign the EPAs must deliberately delay them. He said the EPA must be rejected as it had few benefits for African countries.

Speaker in the House of Assembly Dlamini said during negotiations, the EU came with a commission well versed in such issues and had plenty of experience. He said there was no technical capacity in the region despite that it would be imperative in EPA discussions. The Speaker recommended that there had to be a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Secretariat to converse with the EU Commission on behalf of SADC countries when negotiating on the EPAs. He also said there was need for the engagement of the EU so that they would look at negotiations in terms of the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

The Speaker also stressed that there had to be SADC, SACU and COMESA representatives in the negotiations with the EU as opposed to the approach to the SADC bloc as it had failed. “Individual countries must stop negotiating alone. All SADC countries must speak one language when it comes to EPAs. "The agreement is now being negotiated with individual member states as opposed to the original position of negotiating blocs. This is further compounded by the fact that the SADC Secretariat does not have the mandate to negotiate on behalf of member states," he stressed.

During the second regional parliamentary conference on trade and EPAs held in Botswana over the past few weeks, it was recommended that there should be promotion of research-based and region-wide consensus on a SADC position versus the ongoing EPA and other multilateral trade negotiations. The conference also recommended that governments in the different countries be urged to make the SADC integration more people centred. (sadocc/Swazi Oberserver)

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