October 27, 2006, Zambia

CIVIL society and the private sector have strongly supported the position taken by Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) negotiators in the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), to prioritise development issues as raised during the first text-based negotiating meeting in Mombasa last month.
At the same time the ESA negotiating group resolved that the negotiations could not go ahead unless the European Commission (EC) accepted to negotiate development as envisaged and proposed by the ESA group in the draft text.

In Mombasa, chair of the ESA ambassadors affirmed the stance that ESA negotiators did not have the mandate to negotiate EPAs without development being central to the whole package.
Over 15 ESA countries representing civil society and the private sector recently gathered in Lusaka, Zambia, to take stock of the EPA negotiations and how it impacts the business and development opportunities of countries in the region.

The Regional Dialogue on Economic Partnership Agreements in the ESA countries defined specific development concerns of EPAs and difficulties that governments and non-state actors face in proactively engaging the negotiation process.

Among the issues discussed were the formal review process of EPAs as visualised in the Cotonou agreement, to develop consensus among key stakeholders on benchmarking development components to be agreed upon, and to assess the policy coherence of the EPA at national and regional level.

The meeting also discussed strengthening capacity of non-state actors and trade negotiators to effectively engage on the linkages between trade, development and poverty reduction.

Consumer Unity and Trust Society Africa Resource Centre (CUTS-ARC), who hosted the meeting, said the indaba was aimed at providing a forum to debate and contribute to the development component of the proposed EPA, considering that negotiations are at a crucial stage.

CUTS-ARC’s Vladimir Chilinya, coordinator of EPA project, said participants included stakeholders from the civil society, policy makers and private sector from 15 countries in the region.

“The indaba will discuss the progress made so far by the EU on the EPA’s for Sub-Saharan countries and, various proposals for further trade and investment liberalisation.

“It will also offer an opportunity to asses and benchmark the development component of EPAs in relation to the national and regional development plans or strategies,” Chilinya said.

The meeting also acted as a forum to strategise for the upcoming non-state actors meeting being organised by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in November this year.
Chilinya said that if there would be any agreement on the EPAs, the issue of development will have to be considered as stated by the ESA countries.

“Civil society, like many governments, are not saying no to EPAs but are simply saying African States cannot trade on the same grounds as the EU market,” he said.

ESA negotiators felt that the EC had not given due regard to the constraints that hold back the ACP states from taking advantage of global trade, hence, without the development component, EPAs would be of no use.
COMESA Secretary-General, Erastus Mwencha echoed civil society’s fears that the EU was applying “underhand methods” in the negotiations by saying that the Economic Development Fund (EDF) was sufficient for development in the ESA countries.

“The EDF is coming to an end so why should there be a link between it and EPAs?” he asked.
Dr Mwencha called upon the EU to provide ESA countries with real and secure market access through EPAs and to ensure that development remained at the heart of negotiations.

But EU delegation representative in Lusaka, Francesca Di Mauro retaliated that the EU would provide aid to support the African countries to build their capacity to trade and benefit from the opportunities provided by the EPAs.

Participants expressed concern that the EU aid procedures were “unclear” and “tedious” to respond to the challenges posed by EPAs and that the EU currently envisages that EPAs would compete with aid for social development.

Another major issue discussed at the meeting was the formal review of progress in the EPA negotiations due to take place in the coming weeks.

The meetings will ensure that negotiations achieve their objectives.