EPA Stance Confusing [opinion]

I have heard many conflicting statements this year on Namibia’s position on the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) by government leaders such that I am now not sure what the country’s position on this contentious issue is.

The Africa-Europe Summit was held in May with the Europeans maintaining their stance that countries, which do not sign the agreement risk losing out on duty free exports to one of the world’s most lucrative markets.

Without signing EPA, duty free exports to the European Union would cease and the country would have to compete on an open market with ger economies like Brazil and Argentine. Namibia exports to the EU that are under threat are beef, fish and grapes.

SCHLETTWEIN IN PARLIAMENT

In February this year, a ministerial statement by Minister of Trade and Industry, Calle Schlettwein in parliament appeared to suggest the government’s hardline stance on the agreement had softened.

Before this, Prime Minister Hage Geingob, during his term as trade minister had made it clear Namibia would not sign the agreement in its present form as it was offering the country a raw deal. But Schlettwein’s statement in parliament seemed to point to a new stance when he said Southern African countries had reached a consensus to abandon the interim EPA negotiations and go for full EPA negotiations.

In another twist, Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Bernard Esau in an address to the fishing industry in Walvis Bay, soon after Schlettwein’s statement said he was concerned about the looming deadline for duty free, quota free market access to the European Union, which is 1 October. He urged the industry to look to other markets in the world.

Then speaking in the

Karas Region, President Hifikepunye Pohamba during a visit to the grape farms, said the country would sign the agreement soon.

FOOT AND MOUTH

A number of years ago on a visit to the EU headquarters in Brussels, the officials there explained to me that Europeans want to eat higher quality food and that meeting these standards was in our best interest as an exporting country.

The irony is that since my last visit to Brussels, Europe has had health scares from within its borders like Foot and Mouth Disease and the horse meat scandal. In fact we can argue that our standards are higher than theirs.

There is no doubt that Namibia earns handsomely from exports to Europe. But it is also a fact that meeting these standards is a very expensive exercise-what with the whole tracing of origin chain that includes ear tags for cattle and other related expenses.

The government has urged producers to look for alternative markets in the Middle East and the Far East to reduce dependence on Europe. But this won’t happen in a day.

I think Namibia must sign the EPA agreement first and then start looking for alternative markets before we can tell the Europeans to eat horse meat and leave us alone with our hormone free, free range beef and hake from our unpolluted waters.

Source : The Namibian