ZIMBABWE has decided to negotiate its Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union under a new trading bloc known as the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) group.
Industry and International Trade minister Samuel Mumbengegwi said since the EU had separate trade agreements with both South Africa and Egypt, Zimbabwe had to join other countries from both the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa), to negotiate with a strong voice.
“What is Sadc without South Africa? The same goes for Comesa. What is it without Egypt’s participation? We have decided to team up with east and southern Africa. We feel our concerns will be well taken care of.”
Zimbabwe’s decision to negotiate under the ESA framework comes after a research that was done last year, which said Zimbabwe had to drop its membership of either Comesa or Sadc.
Conservative figures of Comesa intra-trade indicate that last year Zimbabwe imported goods worth US$67,38 million and in turn exported goods worth US$308,98 million.
The ESA configuration is premised within Comesa, which is also the largest grouping in Africa and trading bloc in the ESA region.
The ESA has 16 member countries, namely Burundi, the Comoros, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, the Seychelles, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The ESA is made up of countries that are also members of the East African Community, the Inter-Governmental Authority, the Indian Ocean Commission and Sadc countries.
During the launch of the ESA-EPA agreements in Mauritius held in February, member countries agreed to negotiate trade issues such as development, market access, agriculture, fisheries, trade-in services and trade-related areas.
The countries also agreed to establish a multi-sectoral National Development and Trade Policy Forum.
Meanwhile, after a week of wrangling in Geneva, World Trade Organisation (WTO) members on Sunday adopted a framework laying down the guidelines for the troubled Doha Round.
The Doha agreements include issues such as transparency in government procurement, market access, services and trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights and agriculture.
Developing nations were able to persuade developed nations to cut agricultural subsidies, which they say have undercut the economies of some of the world’s poorest countries.
Sub-Saharan Africa could see annual gains of US$3,3 billion if developed nations end their farm support, estimated at more than US$300 billion a year, the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute has said.
But in many areas, particularly agriculture, Africa’s poorest producers already enjoy tariff-free quotas to the EU and the United States under bilateral trade agreements.
Trade experts say these could emerge as an unexpected casualty of the latest talks.
However, Mumbengegwi said he doubts that an agreement on agricultural subsidies between developing and developed countries would be reached by the end of this month, pointing out that there was still a lot of groundwork to be done.
“We have just come from Mauritius and I don’t think the August deadline by the WTO director-general is feasible,” he said. “We have a long way to go because people are thinking of their economic interests.”