European Union, South Africa Review EU-SADC Economic Partnership Agreement

19 October 2017

One year after enacting the EU-South African Development Community (SADC) Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), officials from the EU and South Africa gathered in Johannesburg to review its progress and consider next steps.

The EU-SADC EPA entered into force in October 2016, and is designed to be an asymmetrical, development-oriented agreement. The accord has been signed by six of the 15 SADC members, namely Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland.

The EPA grants all of those countries, with the exception of South Africa, duty-free, quota-free access to the European market, while improving market access for Johannesburg. The 28-nation EU ranks as the largest trading partner for these countries, with European Commission statistics placing imports at over €30 billion in minerals, metals, and other products in 2015. The bloc exported similar levels of engineering, automotive, and chemical products.

Building on the deal

At this week’s meeting in Johannesburg, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström told stakeholders that the 28-nation bloc was determined to “build on the provisions of the EU-SADC EPA that enable and even require us to be inclusive and seek systematically the involvement of civil society.”

The EU trade chief highlighted the value of bringing civil society and other stakeholders into the implementation process, including through “domestic advisory groups,” and noted that Brussels will be pushing to ink a deal with SADC EPA countries for setting up a “joint platform” bringing in additional points of view.

The EU trade official further reaffirmed the importance of the binding provisions in the trade and sustainable development chapter of the deal, referring to labour and environmental standards.

In a joint press release, South Africa Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said that “both parties should work together to ensure that the EPA contributes to the structural transformation agenda of the region, enhances trade, and promotes mutually beneficial outcomes.”

However, the South African trade chief also told South African news agency the Daily Maverick that more could be done to make better use of the deals’ terms.

“If our producers are not taking up their export quotas we need to see what it needs to meet the EU standards,” Davies said, referring specifically to agricultural exports.

Malmström, meanwhile, noted in a speech to Witwatersrand University students this week that South African agricultural exports to the EU have grown over the past year, while noting “there is much more to do to really reap the benefits.”

EPA overview

The EU EPA talks with different country groups across the continent involved lengthy negotiations over more than a decade, ultimately leading to concluded deals with countries within the following five blocs: West Africa, Central Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA), East African Community (EAC), and SADC. (See Bridges Africa, 18 June 2015)

Within West Africa, EPAs between the EU and Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana provisionally entered into force late last year. A regional EPA has been initialled and is now pending signature.

In Central Africa, Cameroon remains the only country to have signed an EPA with the EU, which began provisional application three years ago. Meetings have since been held on implementation and on the prospects of bringing other countries in the region on board.

Currently, Mauritius, Seychelles, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar are signatories to the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA)-EU EPA, while talks for the regional EPA with the East African Community (EAC) were concluded in October 2014, with Kenya and Rwanda joining two years later.

Over the course of the EPA talks, the negotiation of these regional agreements has fuelled interest in what this might mean for the continent’s wider integration efforts, including in various African regional economic communities or in relation to the proposed Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA). (See Bridges Africa, 18 June 2015)

Indeed, the South African trade ministry also stated on social media site Twitter this week that the country is committed to regional integration as a path towards wider integration across Africa, including the planned CFTA.

After Cotonou

Aside from the planned CFTA, another major process will soon be on the horizon, given that the Cotonou Agreement will expire at the end of the decade. Last year, the EU issued a joint communication from the European Commission and the High Representative to support the discussion regarding the next chapter of the bloc’s relationship with the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries.

Published last November, the document reaffirms the bloc’s interest in cementing a legally binding accord with the ACP going forward.

“At the same time, the new partnership should remain flexible and agile to adapt to its own progress and the ever-changing environment,” the document says, noting that the issue will require future deliberations among the EU institutions and ACP members.

ICTSD reporting; “Minister Davies and European Union Trade Commissioner Malmström mark first anniversary of Economic Partnership Agreement” CNBC AFRICA, 17 October 2017; “South Africa fails to exploit free trade agreement access to massive EU market,” DAILY MAVERICK, 16 October 2017.

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