WINDHOEK: Trade and Industry Minister Dr Hage Geingob has accused the European Union (EU) of using bullying tactics because of its decision to stand by an ultimatum which forces Namibia to decide on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by 2014.
After almost a decade of negotiations on EPAs between African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) countries and the EU, the EU has set an ultimatum for the talks, stating that the 18 out of 36 countries which have not yet concluded or implemented an EPA now have until 01 January 2014 to do so.
Despite a call by President Hifikepunye Pohamba on the EU last month to waive the ultimatum regarding the signing of the EPA so that negotiations can proceed without undue pressure, the EU has decided to stick to the deadline.
The Head of the EU Delegation to Namibia, Ambassador Raul Fuentes Milani broke the news of the EU decision to Geingob when he paid a courtesy call on the minister at his office on Wednesday.
“We took the plea very serious, but the EU’s position stands for the talks to be concluded by 2014,” he said.
The minister was not amused by the news.
“Equal partners do not give each other deadlines. There is no need for deadlines if negotiations are to benefit the two partners,” he stated.
Geingob further accused Milani of not being diplomatic.
“This EU threat to cut Namibia’s market access by January 2014 if the country doesn’t sign the EPA is unethical,” charged the minister.
On his part, Milani said the EU is seriously looking into the outstanding issues affecting Namibia with regards to the EPA, and said there is hope that before the ultimatum’s deadline, those issues will be resolved.
He added that negotiations are progressing well between the two parties.
Namibian issues under discussion include the rules of origin on fisheries, technical issues such as the Most-Favoured Nation clause (MFN) which obliges all EPA members to extend to each other any better market access they grant to other countries in the future; infant industry protection, and a number of other issues which need to be solved in the context of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as a region.
“We do not want the EPA to get in the way of our bilateral relationship which we are enjoying today. We would not want the EPA to be a problem to regional integration,” Milani said.
Geingob, however, said in return that if the EPA is signed, it would pose a threat to the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).
“SACU will be finished if the EPA is signed,” he stressed.
President Hifikepunye Pohamba last month called on the EU to waive the 2014 ultimatum regarding the signing of the EPA.
Speaking during official talks with Swaziland’s King Mswati III, who was in Namibia on a five-day official visit, the Namibian Head of State also called on the EU to maintain the current mechanism that provides access for Namibian products into the European market.
“The EPA negotiations should retain the character of being development-friendly partnerships, and should not result in a situation where SADC Member States would be economically disadvantaged,” he cautioned.
“We believe that the ultimate outcome of the negotiation process should be mutually beneficial to both the SADC and the EU,” he emphasised.
For the past few years, SADC has been engaged in negotiations for an EPA with the EU.
Some SADC countries, including Namibia, are set to lose preferential access to the European Union, which wants ACP countries to sign free trade agreements, or face potential loss of market access to the 27-member EU bloc.
The Economic Partnership Agreements are contested because countries fear unfair competition from the EU market.