It was a foregone conclusion that the 14-member southern Africa trading bloc (SADC) would assent to the Economic Partnership Agreement between the European Union (EU) and the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.
The writing was already on the wall even ahead of this month’s annual Summit of Heads of State and Government, that the Southern African Development Community would follow the example of her counterparts in west Africa- ECOWAS, whose heads of state and government authority have already signaled intention to sign the pact. Exerting further pressure on SADC to sign was also the decision of the five-member Southern African Customs Union (SACU), to agree on a single external tariff with the EU, which was taken in Pretoria, South Africa on July 15. All the five SACU members, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland also belong to the SADC and include the region’s biggest economy and Africa’s second biggest economy by GDP, South Africa.
Although she began as an observer in the protracted negotiations, which began when the Cotonou Agreement expired in 2007, South Africa enjoys a head start thanks to the Trade and Development Cooperation Agreement (TDCA)- a pact signed between South Africa and the EU when the former emerged from the clutches of settler colonialism and apartheid. The other nine SADC member states are a hotchpotch of highly indebted poor countries and a few middle income countries, devoid of much clout to influence the outcome of the trade negotiations. And so in the absence of a strong civil society culture in SADC – the result of the regional organisation’s refusal to recognise civil society organisations within its formal structure when it transformed from a coordinating conference into a development community in 1992- SADC will certainly be predisposed to go with any offer the EU puts on the table.
To what extent will SADC member states be permitted to impose export taxes on goods manufactured in the region (under rules of origin) and destined to the European market? And how much of her market will SADC open to the EU considering some of the contentious issues blocking an envisaged multilateral trade regime at the Doha Development talks? To this day, the Singapore issues under the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) have still not been resolved, yet under the EPAs, ACP member states are expected to make concessions on these issues in favour of EU’s market access. These questions are pertinent and can only be answered by real dialogue between equal parties in the negotiation.
The EU structured the negotiations such that Non State Actors participate, but because SADC is basically a club of governments, alternative viewpoints are not factored in, thus concerns of small micro and medium enterprises (SMMEs) as well as member states’ fragile infant industries are hardly taken into account. The EU’s offer of market access to ACP’s agricultural products and its undertaking to remove subsidies on goods destined to ACP lacks the input of the ACP citizenry. The EPAs promise to promote regional integration but owing to Africa’s regional economic communities’ gullibility and propensity to divisive tendencies, the EU has managed throughout the negotiation since 2000 to manipulate the individual member states and corner them into submission.
Economic watchers remain baffled at Africa’s commitment to the ideals she has set herself in the Abuja Treaty of 1993, which resolved to establish an African Economic Community in phased stages.
Many years later, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) founding treaty of 1963 has been replaced by the African Union, yet the 53 countries of the continent still fail to speak with one voice with the rest of the world. Instead, a 28-member bloc has contrived to divide Africa into little pockets of regional economic communities with no resources and skills expertise to negotiate for the best interests of their citizens. In the final analysis, Africa is free politically, but under economic subjugation. It is the neo-colonialism that the early African statesmen predicted would engulf the continent, and so it’s here already. Pan Africanists wonder why a continent endowed with vast resources such as Africa would in this age and era still require preferential trade agreements from her former colonisers, when it has the ability to be a world economic powerhouse should it trade among itself. It only takes political will and a people-centred ideology to make that choice.