The EPAs are back!


Six SADC member states – Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique – recently concluded an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union as a bloc. Most of the remaining SADC members are covered under the EPA between the EU and COMESA.

Trade liberalisation is at the heart of EPAs, and the EPAs are World Trade Organisation (WTO) compatible. A stakeholder meeting was recently held to review the EPA process and a number of issues and observations were raised.

These included the lack of involvement by non-state actors (NSA), including farmers’ organisations, in the negotiations; the likelihood of further negotiations with Britain following Brexit; the negative impact this will have on regional integration due to the fracturing of SADC as a single unit as SADC EPA only covers six member countries and relatedly, the negative impact this might have on the implementation of SADC’s much publicised Industrialisation Strategy.

Other issues include potential conflict between the SADC EPA and the East and Southern Africa (ESA) EPA; expected import surges arising from the reduced tariffs; and that the tariff reduction could lead to reduction in revenue to governments which may not be replaced with aid or the positive impact of increased trade.

Three key messages can be discerned from the review meeting. Firstly, now that an agreement has been concluded, there is need to move beyond the politics and law to making it work- it’s no use dwelling on the past. Secondly, NSAs, including farmer’s organisations, need to re-group and tackle EPA issues, and the starting point is to understand what is in it, or not in it for them.

Lastly, whilst it might be good to liberalise, if you don’t increase productivity and competiveness you will lose out- farmers and other producers beware!