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Delegates call for EPA review

Mpeshe Selebalo


MASERU — Delegates attending a SADC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) workshop have called for a review of the agreement saying the current deal did not develop industries in member states.

An interim EPA was signed between the European Union (EU) member countries and three Southern African Development Community (SADC) members — Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland — on June 4.

The agreement was meant to improve and facilitate trade between the two regional blocs.

However delegates from SADC who were at last week’s workshop held in Maseru expressed concern that the agreement in its present form was not having the desired effect on local industries.

“It should be renegotiated since the EU does not care for bloc regional trade. Our industrialisation levels are very low compared to the EU.

“The trade negotiations must not negatively affect our businesses, resulting in the loss of jobs in our industries,” said a delegate from South Africa to much applause from most of the participants.

Meanwhile, a regional trade expert told the delegates the protection of local industries and the security of jobs should be a major priority when SADC members are involved in negotiations with the EU.

Offah Bale, a programme officer at South Centre, an intergovernmental organisation of developing countries based in Geneva, Switzerland, told the participants: “Restrictions that member states within the EU put actually limit market access and in most cases what is agreed upon is less in reality.”

He added that SADC states must “collectively deal with issues” that affect them and emulate EU countries in the protection of their industries.

“You must have strategic negotiations and act as a unit, in order to ensure that opportunities are clearly defined under those terms,” Bale said.

He also noted that trade liberalisation experiences in the region have been mixed and outcomes often fail to live up to expectations.

Bale added that trade in the service sector “constitutes about 70 percent of gross domestic product in developed countries, hence the need for SADC countries to drive towards more such trade”. 

Addressing the same workshop, the principal secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Co-operatives and Marketing, Teleko Ramotsoari, said it was important for local producers to be aware of opportunities that exist through international trade agreements.

“SADC countries have successfully traded through such arrangements in the past, and continue negotiating for more trade to improve economic growth,” he said.

Ramotsoari said he hoped there would be more unity and regional integration within SADC countries soon.

Lesotho Revenue Authority tariff and origin manager, Thuto Mathetse, however argued that the agreement with the EU had “put allowance for facilitation of speedy customs services”.

He said this was conducive for the development of business in Lesotho.

“In the agreement there is a commitment to development in which there will be assistance in the introduction of modern customs techniques in member countries to create an enabling environment for efficient customs facilitation,” Mathetse said.

He added the current interim EPA makes it easier to outsource raw materials and also helps manufacturers comply with the requirements of customs procedures.

“We are driving for connectivity and shared risk management between customs bodies to facilitate regional trade,” Mathetse said.

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