EU, South Africa Discuss Options for Closer Economic Ties at Presidential Summit

22 November 2018

South African leaders met with their European counterparts in Brussels for a presidential summit on 15 November to discuss future opportunities for cooperation, including on economic issues. Discussions between the two sides included a wide array of topics such as  trade and market access, Brexit, migration, and sustainability, among others.

The meeting between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk, and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa comes after the EU’s new proposal of an Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs, as part of its broader strategy of developing deeper ties between the two regions.

Notably, it also comes two years since the signing of the landmark Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and members of the South African Development Community. The SADC EPA group includes Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland, with Angola potentially joining further down the road. 

This agreement was signed in 2016 and aims to promote development and integration in the African region, support diversification of trade, promote sustainable development, and provide better access to each other’s markets. (See Bridges Weekly, 13 October 2016

“We underline the benefits of the full and effective implementation of the EU-SADC EPA, including with regard to expanded and enhanced protection of Geographical Indications (GIs) as provided for in the EU-SADC EPA. The implementation of the EU-SADC-EPA in line with the development-oriented focus of the Agreement can make a significant contribution to reinforcing mutually beneficial and inclusive trade and to enhancing regional integration,” leaders said. 

EU, South Africa affirm commitment to rules-based trade system

The two sides also highlighted the importance of taking steps to support the rules-based multilateral trading system, particularly by finding a solution to the impasse on Appellate Body appointments, which have put the WTO’s highest court under profound strain. 

In the joint statement following the meeting, leaders declared their determination in promoting “free, fair, and inclusive trade and the rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization,” while also expressing concern over trade tensions worldwide and the growing use of multilateral measures. 

Investment was also raised during the leaders’ level talks, with both sides committing to further discussing changes to the investor-state dispute settlement system, with those talks taking place in the context of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). They made particular reference to the importance of sustainable development in this context. 

“Today, we had a productive discussion on how to address common challenges and how to strengthen our ties,” said Tusk in his remarks after the Summit. 

“South Africa is a key player, both regionally and globally, and we will step up our cooperation accordingly, to defend our shared values and interests. These include support for multilateral solutions, including trading system, and the rules-based global order, which will be discussed in two weeks' time at the G20 in Argentina,” he said. 

Officials also discussed the EU’s proposal of the Africa-EU Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs, which was released in September by Juncker and covers topics such as labour skills development and energy access. 

Climate change, natural resources

In addition to trade, European and South African officials discussed various issues related to climate change and natural resources governance, such as how to end the exploitation and illegal trade of precious resources such as minerals and wildlife. Also on the docket was the improvement of ocean governance, and leaders pledged to bring back the South Africa-EU Forum on Environment, Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Water following the meeting. 

This Forum was created in 2007 to enhance bilateral dialogue on issues of shared interest, covering topics such as climate change, waste management, sustainable consumption and production, biodiversity, and environmental governance. However, the Forum has not met in this capacity since 2012. More broadly, the leaders discussed ongoing progress in achieving the goals outlined in the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The EU also showed a growing interest in South African markets in the statement, particularly in an increasingly digital economy. 

“We support the digital transformation of the [South African] economy in an inclusive manner by supporting digital innovation, digital infrastructure, the information society, and by fostering digital skills for all, in order to boost overall productivity, social inclusion, living standards and an efficient use of natural resources,” leaders said in the joint statement.

Concurrently, South African leaders expressed concerns over EU market access with the upcoming Brexit as the international community remains uncertain over the effects of the draft withdrawal arrangement, as well as the final shape of the EU-UK trading arrangements post-Brexit. (See Bridges Weekly, 15 November 2018 and related story, this edition)

”South Africa, like all our international partners, is concerned by Brexit,” stated Tusk in his remarks post-Summit. “We updated President Ramaphosa on the state of play of negotiations, and assured him that the EU will do its utmost to keep partner countries informed and to reduce the negative impact of the Brexit process.” 

ICTSD reporting; “Lift Zim sanctions, Ramaphosa urges EU,” THE HERALD, 17 November 2018.

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