Negotiations on ACP-EU interim Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) have not supported the existing regional integration initiatives, a top European Union (EU) official has admitted.
Speaking at the three-day and 10th regional seminar of the ACP-EU economic and social interest groups, president of the follow-up committee of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Luca Jahier said that the EU was aware of the conflict that has arisen within the different regional groupings. But it must be remembered that the interim EPAs are only a stepping stone towards comprehensive EPAs, he said.
" The negotiations on the interim EPAs have been the focus of much criticism for not supporting existing regional initiatives and I agree with these pre-occupations.
" I agree that the temporary EPAs are not good for the regional integration but we must understand that to reach a final EPA is complicated.
"The SADC (Southern African Development Community) region is particularly complicated, with EPA negotiations taking place in four different geo-graphical configurations.
This does raise the question of how best to encourage regional integration," he said.Botswana, along with Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland recently signed an interim EPA agreement with EU, a development that did not go down well with South Africa, which has since threatened to tighten its borders.
Analysts say that the signing of the interim EPA will have devastating effects for the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), which will lead to massive customs revenue cuts for Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Responding to a question on what the EU is doing to minimise the effect of regional integration initiatives, Head of Delegation of the European Commission to Botswana and SADC Ambassador Paul Malin said that recent reports of SACU breaking up were not welcome but in the end it was
" We agreed on harmonisation of tariffs in SACU before the signing of the interim EPAs and I believe the difficulties being faced now are just a smokescreen of underlying problems and it is not sustainable," he said.
During the seminar, which ends today, 12 EESC members are joined by Southern African civil society representatives from the 15 SADC countries to discuss a wide range of issues, including the impact of the global financial crisis on Africa and how to ensure sustainable food security in the continent.
Keynote speakers include the Minister for Trade and Industry Neo Moroka, the chief coordinator of the SADC-EPA Group, Dikgakgamatso Ramadeluka Seretse, the acting Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Baledzi Gaolathe, the national authorising officer and Minister of Finance and Development Planning.
Initiatives to promote the involvement of civil society in the ACP-EU development partnership will also be on the table, in parallel with the opportunities presented by the 2010 revision of the Cotonou Agreement, the basis of development co-operation between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States.
Today, participants will engage in an assessment of developments in the ongoing negotiations on the EPAs and challenges specific to the region. At the same time, discussions will explore the possibilities of increased participation of ACP economic and social interest groups in the EPA process.
Under the auspices of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, the EESC organises meetings with ACP-EU economic and social interest groups in line with the Cotonou accord.