Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Commissioner Malmström in South Africa to celebrate first anniversary of regional trade agreement


Commissioner Malmström in South Africa to celebrate first anniversary of regional trade agreement

Commissioner Malmström in South Africa to celebrate first anniversary of regional trade agreement
Photo credit: European Commission

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström was in South Africa on 16 and 17 October. The Commissioner attended a civil society forum in Johannesburg marking one year since the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EU and six countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) came into force provisionally.

Together with ministers from the region, she opened the high-level event with more than 150 civil society organisations. Afterwards, representatives of NGOs, trade associations and trade unions had the opportunity to comment on their experiences of the trade deal, one year on.

In her speech, Commissioner Malmström pointed out that companies, environmental campaigners, trade unions and human rights advocates all need to be closely involved in the monitoring of the EPA.

“We need your input and ideas on how to make the implementation of the agreement and our cooperation on sustainable development stronger and more effective. If we do all of those things, the EU-SADC EPA will have a high chance of becoming a landmark deal for people on both sides,” Malmström said.

Whilst in South Africa the Commissioner participated in a number of meetings, including with South African Minister of Trade Rob Davies, to discuss trade policy and the implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement. She also visited Witwatersrand (Wits) University where she gave a lecture to students and members of the public on global trade issues.

There was also a trip to Liliesleaf Farm, a site of historical importance in the political struggle against apartheid, followed by a showcase of South African regional products to celebrate World Food Day.

During her trip, Commissioner Malmström also visited an organic farm managed by a young black female entrepreneur who intends to make use of the EPA to export certified organic agricultural products to Europe.

In her speech to students at Wits University, Commissioner Malmström raised the partnership between the EU and South Africa.

“In our strategic partnership, we have shown the world that progress and fairness is possible. So let us keep working together, and let us keep in mind that we can still do so much more.”

Trade with African, Caribbean & Pacific countries – putting partnerships into practice

The SADC-EU partnership agreement will stay high on the agenda throughout the week – on Friday, 20 October, Malmström will co-host a high-level roundtable in Brussels, together with fellow EU Commissioner, Neven Mimica, the trade ministers of Jamaica and Madagascar, and vice-president Van Ballekom of the European Investment Bank.

The event, entitled ‘Partnership in practice: making EU trade work for ACP countries’, will look at the current trade relationship between the EU and the 79 countries that make up the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

The roundtable will consider EU policy tools such as those Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and ACP regions, as well as the External Investment Plan (EIP) for Africa, and trade-related development programmes. It will also examine how they are working at the moment to help ACP countries attract more investment, industrialise, integrate into global value chains, and create jobs in the process, as well as what lessons can be learned to further facilitate trade and investment.

The event on Friday will bring together businesspeople and representatives of civil society from ACP countries and the EU. It will include a discussion with a panel whose members are well placed to speak on these issues: for instance, the deputy executive director of Caribbean Export, the region’s export promotion agency; the director of a textiles manufacturing firm in Madagascar; the international relations adviser of lobby group BusinessEurope; and a representative of the successful fisheries industry of Papua New Guinea.

“I am determined that Economic Partnership Agreements should work for ACP and European businesses and communities – and especially for young people and women, who are often excluded from job and business opportunities,” Malmström wrote in a blog.

“I want the agreements to help the participating ACP countries to diversify their economies and industrialise, so they move up global value chains and generate more growth and jobs in the process. I want them to encourage ACP countries to enact the reforms that will help them attract more long-term investment from overseas. And I want us to overcome the challenges we face as we put the EPAs into practice.

“There have been encouraging signs already, for which EPAs can take at least some credit. One example is Madagascar’s textile and clothing industry. It has benefitted from the conclusion of the EPA with duty-free, quota-free access to the EU and improved rules of origin. After its EPA started to apply in 2012, Madagascar saw a rise in exports to the EU of almost 15% per year. In 2015, textiles and clothing were its main exports, worth more than 300 million euros. They accounted for almost one third of Madagascar’s total exports to the EU. And in South Africa, exports to the EU in sectors like fisheries and flowers have increased since the entry into force of its EPA.”

“These agreements also come with considerable aid for trade, to assist ACP governments and businesses in putting the agreements to work and make the most of them. For example, in Lesotho, the EU has funded a one-stop export application facility. It used to take seven days to complete export formalities and exporters used to have to fill in a 23 page document. Now it takes just 15 minutes.

“Of course, the EPAs are not the solution to all challenges faced. But I believe they can play an important role in enabling the participating ACP countries to integrate more fully into the global economy and fulfil the aspirations of their people. That’s a goal we must all strive for.”

Visit tralac’s SADC EPA resources page for more.

The EU-SADC EPA: monitoring of the agreement and its impact

Speech by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström at the High Level Dialogue with SADC Civil Society Organisations, 16 October 2017

I’m delighted with the group of people we have here today on occasion of the celebration of the 1st anniversary of the entry into application of the Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and the Southern African Development Community.

We have organisations dealing with the environment, labour and social rights…

… groups representing companies involved with trade with the EU…

…and you all came here from six different SADC countries to discuss how the Economic Partnership Agreement, or EPA, is likely to impact the region, your country and the life of the people living there.

You have already heard this morning about the EPA, its key features and what we aim to achieve with the agreement. I am here now not to talk about trade policy or to give you an overview of the EPA. I am here to talk about people and listen.

I and the EU are strongly convinced that trade policy and EPAs, indeed, are not about abstract growth figures. They are about people and how people can benefit from the rules in place.

Trade is not about politicians like me posing for photos as we sign or discuss a treaty. It’s about improving people’s lives, in the SADC region and in Europe.

And I am fully conscious that civil society here in the region, in South Africa in particular, has a lot to teach us Europeans – civil society here has been and still is a force for good, with civil rights movements having played a crucial role in the recent history of your countries.

This is why I’m delighted to have you all here, specifically for three reasons.

First, I support an open approach to trade policy that brings the full range of views on an issue together. Today’s meeting is a reflection of that approach.

Since the beginning of my mandate as trade commissioner for the EU, I’ve made openness and transparency the absolute priority for all EU trade initiatives and policies. Under my direct instructions, the October 2015 EU Communication “Trade for All: towards a more responsible trade and investment policy” clearly indicates that policymaking needs to be transparent, inclusive and the debate based on facts.

On the EU side, as a matter of principle, all stakeholders – including social partners, NGOs, business representatives and all other types of non-state actors – can channel their opinions to EU representatives in the context of regular civil society and citizens’ dialogues. And, once a free trade agreement with a partner is concluded, by participating in any body the agreement creates.

In addition, just recently on 13 September 2017, the European Commission issued a new trade package including a Communication titled “A balanced and progressive” trade policy. This policy paper, which outlines the EU’s trade priorities for the next couple of years to come, suggests that the EU as a whole – as a joint responsibility of all EU Institutions, all EU Member States and all national Parliaments – delivers effective agreements through a negotiating process that is accountable, transparent and inclusive.

In this context, the Commission has decided to create an advisory group on EU trade negotiations, consisting of representatives of a wide and balanced group of stakeholders, ranging from trade unions, employers’ organisations, consumer groups and other NGOs. They will provide policy makers with high quality advice on areas subject to trade negotiations.

I understand some forms of interaction between your governments and civil society organisations in your country have already taken place, and I strongly encourage you to continue in this direction. As I said above, we Europeans can only learn from you, what you have done and what you are still doing.

The second reason I am happy to meet you here today is that – as you understood from what I said before – I do not believe a trade agreement can deliver real benefits to people if it is not implemented with the involvement of stakeholders in all partner countries.

You would certainly concur with me that only by monitoring the operation and the impact of the EPA we can ensure that:

  • the agreement is properly implemented, which in turn would ensure that…

  • the objectives of this agreement are achieved, and…

  • the benefits for the people, in particular the most vulnerable groups, are maximised.

The above is the EU-SADC EPA word-for-word, in which all Parties to the agreement…

…not only undertook to continuously monitor the agreement…

…but also to do it through appropriate mechanisms and timing…

…within their respective participative processes and institutions.

As you have heard this morning, the EU-SADC EPA, like all the other trade agreements concluded by the EU, includes a Chapter fully dedicated to trade and sustainable development.

This Chapter contains a comprehensive set of binding provisions, which are anchored in multilateral standards, notably International Labour Organisation conventions and Multilateral Environmental Agreements. This is aimed at ensuring that trade and investment favour sustainable development rather than undermine it.

The institutional structure of this Chapter, in the eyes of the EU, is designed to be inclusive, through platforms where civil society plays a crucial role. As a matter of principle, the EU always includes such structures in its agreements.

At domestic level, there are often Domestic Advisory Groups. They are mechanisms for each Party to the agreement to request and receive inputs from representatives of its civil society on any matter concerning the implementation of the Trade and Sustainable Development Chapters. The relevant provisions ensure a balanced representation of economic, social and environmental interests. This follows the three-pillar concept of sustainable development.

In addition, the Trade and Sustainable Development Chapters also typically establish a dedicated platform for joint dialogue of civil society organisations sides. This platform is managed and chaired by civil society, which sets the agenda and discusses all sustainable development aspects under the trade agreement in question. Civil society then proposes recommendations to the Parties of the agreement.

In the light of the above, you can understand why I am 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.

For this reason, I have instructed my team to give utmost priority to seek agreement with other SADC EPA States on a joint platform like this. Pending this agreement, nothing prevents us from going ahead with meetings like the one we have today.

The third reason I’m happy with today’s meeting is that we are here to talk about how we can ensure – all together – that the EU-SADC EPA delivers real benefits to the people it is intended to help, both in the SADC countries as well as in the EU.

The objective today is to hear from you…

…what are the challenges that have prevented or might prevent in the future the EPA to deliver concrete benefits to the different stakeholders…

…what needs to be done to eliminate or reduce those risks…

…and what can be done to maximise the positive impact.

We all have a common goal: create prosperity for people in Southern Africa and in Europe.

Trade is a vital component in any successful development strategy. Whether in Africa, China, India, or Brazil, exports have been decisive in reducing poverty over the last four decades. Southern Africa is no exception.

EPAs like the one concluded between the EU and 6 SADC States create new opportunities for workers, consumers and entrepreneurs. That will help us rebuild struggling communities across our continents.

What we are asking you to do this afternoon is to launch a reflection on how the provisions included in the EPA can help creating these opportunities.

But our reflection cannot stop there. Because even the most die-hard free trader must acknowledge that trade agreements give us other questions to answer – in one word: sustainable development.

It is important to assess whether there are risks as regards labour and social rights, and in terms of environmental protection, and how these risks can be eliminated or mitigated.

We need companies, environmental campaigners, trade unions and human rights advocates to be closely involved in the monitoring of the EPA.

We need your input and ideas on how to make the implementation of the agreement and our cooperation on sustainable development stronger and more effective.

If we do all of those things, the EU-SADC EPA have strong changes of becoming a landmark deal for people on both sides.

I have high expectations not only on the results of the discussion you will have in a few minutes, but mainly on the process that the meeting today is aimed at triggering.

I have given instructions to take note of the conclusions and recommendations stemming from your discussion this afternoon, with the purpose of assessing them carefully afterwards and discuss them between the EU and all the SADC EPA Parties.

I have also given instructions to organise this kind of meetings every year, and next year in the presence also of EU civil society organisations so that we can successfully create a joint platform for stakeholder involvement.

Thank you for your attention and your willingness to support our work today.

I look forward to some questions and to the discussion.


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