Billions in balance if trade pact failsBy: JO-MARÉ DUDDY
NAMIBIA will have to pay more than half a billion dollars in duties if the country has not signed the economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) by January 2014.
The EU recently adopted a proposal to stop Namibia from enjoying duty- and quota-free access to its markets if the country refuses to commit to the controversial trade pact by then. The European Council still has to approve the proposal.
According to the proposal and based on 2009 trade figures, Namibia will have to pay 58,2 million euro in duties if it loses its preferential market access to the 27 countries constituting the EU. At yesterday’s exchange rate, that amounts to about N$623 million.
The proposal states that the EU imported Namibian products to the tune of 586 million euro in 2009. Of this, 299 million euro worth of products like beef, fish and grapes were duty-free.
Without preferential access, Namibia would have to pay an average of 19,5 per cent duties on all future exports to the EU.
Namibia shares losing special market access with 17 other African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) countries. Should these countries fail to meet the EU’s ultimatum, they in total will have to pay about 509 million euro in duties.
Trade and Industry Minister Hage Geingob last week lashed out at the EU’s latest stint, criticising the bloc’s Trade Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, for not even mentioning the deadline when he met with the Namibian Government in September.
The Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) yesterday sided with Geingob, saying it doesn’t support the idea of the “unilateral deadline”.
“It is our strong feeling that while the EU preaches its desire to create economic partnerships with its former colonies, the EU still believes that it is a superior partner in this partnership,” NCCI chief executive officer, Tarah Shaanika, said at a press conference.
Shaanika said the chamber will not support a trade pact which “does not recognise the fact that between two ‘partners’, there is one which is hugely developed and one which is hugely underdeveloped”.
Swapo MP, Petrus van der Walt, told the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly last week that “EC officials are making it difficult for this agreement to be fully beneficial and developmental”. Van der Walt said Namibia rejects the European Commission’s portrayal that Namibia is responsible for the delay in finalising the EPA.
“Why does the Commissioner think we are responsible when his officials take six months or even a year to reply to some of our concerns?” he asked.
Wallie Roux, a local expert in international trade, said it seems as if the EU has “eventually played their last ace in a desperate attempt to conclude their ill-constructed EPA negotiations within a certain limited timeframe”.
Roux said although there are still two years and three months to negotiate, it would require “some real efforts, especially from the side of the EU”.
“That is to say if they are serious about resolving the contentious issues, development and regional integration – all of which are questionable at this stage,” Roux said.
Van der Walt too was sceptical about meeting the deadline.
“The first of January 2014 may seem as if it is a long time away, however, we all know that there is a significant number of unresolved issues,” he said. These issues are complicated and time consuming, he said.
“We hope the European Commission does not mean come first of January 2014, agreed or not, we should sign the agreement we have problems with,” Van der Walt told Brussels.