A recent Southern African Development Community (SADC)-European Commission (EC) meeting on the future of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) governing trade between the two regions has been described as constructive by a top South African trade negotiator.
The intention to conclude an agreement by the end of the year, and a work programme, including a further three meetings before year-end, had been agreed by the participants.
Department of Trade and Industry, International Trade and Economic Development deputy director-general Xavier Carim did however caution that, while the meeting was encouraging, "we are not out of the woods yet," and there was still much work that needed to be done. The meeting was held in Brussels at the end of July, and focused on tariffs and rules of origin, as well as unsolved negotiating issues relating to legal issues in the EPA texts.
Carim said that there was positive development on about 60% of the outstanding issues, where more precise language was agreed. He added that almost all of the proposals put forward by SADC were accepted. Carim noted that there also seemed to be a strong push from the EC side to conclude the negotiations, which have dragged well beyond the initially proposed implementation date of 2008. Closer collaboration within the
"They [the EC] have not shifted their position on that one, and we have agreed that we will have to come back to that at a later stage. I don't think their position is a sustainable one," said Carim. He further stated that if a deal was finally concluded on tariffs and rules of origin, the issues of alignment of the rules of origin within Sacu would not arise. This is because, if South Africa were to join the agreement, the EPA rules applicable to Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland, would also apply to South Africa. In that case, the problem of potentially requiring stricter border controls would disappear. (Engineeringnews)