Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

AFTER 10 years of negotiations, a regional Southern African Development Community (Sadc) group, of which South Africa is a part, has "initialled" an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), the Department of Trade and Industry said on Thursday.

This provides South Africa with marked benefits over the bilateral Trade, Development and Co-operation Agreement (TDCA) with the EU that came into force in 2004.

It improves EU market access to 32 South African agricultural products, with a significant improvement in the market for wine. The department said the agreement was initialled by chief negotiators on July 15 in Pretoria, meaning that all negotiations "are concluded".

South Africa is negotiating an EPA as part of a regional Sadc group including Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Angola.

"The timing is significant because it pre-empts the October 1 deadline imposed by the EU after which Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland would have lost preferential access to the EU market for their exports of beef, fish and sugar, on which their economies depend heavily," the department said last night. "The EU has assured us all that the act of initialling ensures that the current market access will continue until the agreement enters into force."

Axel Pougin de la Maisonneuve, head of the EU’s political, economic and trade section in South Africa, said the

28-member bloc "welcomes what we hope is the final stage in negotiations". He said the EPA had reached "technical" closure and now needed to be signed and ratified.

"It puts trade relations between the EU and southern Africa on clear ground," he said.

South Africa had two central objectives in the EPA negotiations, the department said. First, to preserve coherence in the Southern African Customs Union in terms of maintaining the common external tariff that is core to it.

Second, to improve South Africa’s access to the EU market over and above what is provided for under the TDCA signed in 2004.

"More specifically, we sought improved access for South Africa’s agricultural products," it said.

It said the outcome of the EPA negotiations had achieved these objectives. But it also said the EU continued to provide other members of Sadc with better access to its market than it offered South Africa.

The department said that there was improved access for exports of flowers, some dairy products, fruit and fruit products.