A series of meetings involving senior officials and experts from the European Commission and SADC are scheduled before year-end as the two groups attempt to wrap up a full Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) before the New Year.
Senior officials of the two parties recently met in South Africa, marking the first meeting between the groups since the EU accepted the region's request that it places its solidarity ahead of any final agreement.
Four of the seven SADC-EPA states, including Botswana, signed an interim EPA last June, but this year agreed to walk in step with the remaining states in the resolution of outstanding issues. On Wednesday, EU Head of Section on Politics, Trade, Press and Information, Lena Sund, told BusinessWeek that two more joint meetings and a workshop would be held in the region and in Brussels before year end as the two parties attempt to meet the December 2010 deadlines.
In June, ministers from the seven SADC-EPA met in Gaborone and approved timelines for the finalisation and signing of a comprehensive EPA with the EU.
Under the agreement, the states had committed themselves to resolving sticking points that have seen negotiations drift past the original December 2007 deadline, enforceable by the World Trade Organisation.
"The next joint meeting will be held in Maputo in the week starting November 8, followed by another possibly in Brussels or in the region, around the week starting December 6," she said. "Towards the end of October, there will also be a workshop in Brussels that will exclusively be for experts and not senior officials."
Outstanding issues ahead of the deadline include rules of origin and accumulation (issues of value addition) as well as several matters emanating from the 2000 Cotonou Agreement adopted by all parties and guiding the final EPA. These matters include sustainable development, competition, public procurement, good governance in tax issues and intellectual property rights.
"We are dealing with these issues (which) some countries describe them as 'new' issues," said Sund. "However, the Cotonou Agreement of 2000 says these should be in the final EPA.
"When we bring those in, we are following the Agreement and we are all obliged to discuss and put them into the final agreement. There are also other matters to do with agriculture and these will all be on the table between now and November."
The experts' meeting in Brussels will
Sund said progress towards the final EPA was steady but noted that the need to have all states on board had meant taking a step backwards. "We took a step backwards to get all the parties to move ahead as one group," she said.
"That was necessary as the SADC group wished to bring South Africa and Namibia on board. As a result, in July, we went back a step to review a number of articles and provisions already agreed to in the iEPA signed by other states.
"That revision and refreshment of articles is still on the agenda. Some have been sorted out and others have to be discussed in November. There's still a lot of work to be done.
"We are reviewing some of the articles to catch up [with] South Africa and Namibia towards the full EPA. There's nothing wrong with that as long as we can go forward. My personal opinion is that the December deadline will not be met. But if there's more pushing and willingness, we can still do it. We will probably go into 2011, which is not a big deal for us, but we would prefer to sign a full EPA by the end of this year."
Sund explained that prior to the July SADC-EPA region's request for South Africa and Namibia to be brought on board, the EU was looking forward to the four iEPA states ratifying the agreement and notifying the World Trade Organisation. Should the current negotiations fail, the EU says it will revert to the iEPA and request the four signatory states to ratify it and notify the WTO.
For its part, South Africa will have to ensure that its Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement (TDCA) with the EU conforms to regional demands and that SACU does not suffer as a result of it.