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EU Seeks Trade Agreements With Southern Africa

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

12 February 2009

European Union Trade Commissioner, Catherine Ashton, arrived in Southern Africa on February 9 to hold talks with key government leaders with a view to moving forward bilateral and region-to-region trade relationships.

A key goal of Ashton's three-day visit is to discuss the Economic Partnership Agreement with Southern African countries. Aside from meeting government leaders from South Africa and Botswana, Ashton will also have a joint meeting with Angolan, Namibian, and South African ministers while in South Africa and a meeting with ministers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) while in Botswana.

Speaking ahead of the trip, Commissioner Ashton said: "I want to engage with Southern African countries so that we can all gain more from our economic relationship. I am particularly committed to discussing South Africa's concerns over our Economic Partnership Agreement while in Cape Town. I am keen to express our commitment to regional integration."

EPA Negotiations with members of the SADC group of countries were launched in 2004. In 2007 South Africa joined as an official member of the "SADC EPA" Group. An interim EPA was initialled at the end of 2007 with Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and Mozambique. Angola can join the agreement, but as a Least Developed Country in the meantime maintains full market access through the EU's Everything But Arms provision.

The EU and South Africa signed the Trade, Development and Co-operation Agreement (TDCA) in 1999. The objective of the TDCA is to create a free-trade area between South Africa and the EU over a period of 12 years, with the EU opening its market at a faster pace. At the same time, the Southern African Customs Union, consisting of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland now provides for a deeper level of integration amongst some of the countries of the SADC grouping. One of the key challenges in implementing an EPA with SADC is to reconcile these various trade relationships.

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