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Namibia stands up to EU ‘bullying’ 1

BRUSSELS – Tensions between the European Union and Africa have once again erupted, with Namibia accusing the Brussels elite of resorting to bullying tactics in trade negotiations.
In official statements, the European Commission — the EU’s executive — has consistently argued that the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) it has been hoping to conclude with 47 African countries will bring tangible benefits to the continent. African governments have proven far less enthusiastic about these trade liberalisation accords, with some arguing that they are fomenting divisions among neighbours.

In a strongly worded address to Namibia’s national assembly May 19, the country’s trade minister Hage Geingob warned that the EPAs will probably cause the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) to disintegrate. Marking its 100th anniversary this year, SACU is the oldest trading bloc of its kind in the world.

Whereas analysts say that an essential component of any customs union is that it applies common taxes or tariffs on goods traded with the rest of the world, maintaining that approach may no longer be feasible because SACU’s five member states have entered into two different arrangements with the EU. During 2009, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland all signed an EPA covering trade in goods with Europe. South Africa and Namibia, on the other hand, have refused to sign the same accord, viewing it as inimical to their interests.

Although Geingob acknowledged that there are “serious strains” within SACU, he said that its governments have resolved to do what they can to work together. Earlier this year all five sought a meeting with Karel de Gucht, the EU’s trade commissioner, in order to examine what safeguards could be offered to ensure that SACU can remain in place. But Geingob expressed his “dismay” that the request was “roundly and condescendingly rejected” by de Gucht.

Geingob insisted it would be wrong to bow to European pressure and accept the EPA put forward by Brussels. That agreement, he suggested, would require Namibia to abandon strategies that it regards as essential for its economic development. For example, the Namibians apply export taxes on some raw materials in order to encourage that they be processed within the country, thereby providing jobs; yet the EU is adamant that such taxes should be scrapped. By opening up its markets more to European exports, Namibia would also be unable to allow its domestic industrial and agricultural sectors to grow without the pressures of outside competition.

The net result, according to Geingob, could be that Namibia would have to sacrifice jobs in agriculture and food processing and policies designed to ensure that its population has a ready supply of food.

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By David Cronin IPS

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