/ 7 December 2007

Zim and three others agree free trade pact with EU

Zimbabwe and three other African nations provisionally agreed on a regional free trade deal with the European Union (EU) on Thursday.

The deal is part of EU efforts to meet a December 31 deadline set by the World Trade Organisation for replacing its trading system with former European colonies around the world.

The WTO ruled that the EU’s 30-year-old preferential trade agreement with the 78-nation Africa, Caribbean and Pacific group was unfair to other trading nations and violated international rules.

Dozens of nations have yet to conclude new deals, including African heavyweights such as Nigeria, South Africa and Cameroon. They say the agreements will do little to boost their access to European markets and see them as EU meddling in African affairs.

Zimbabwe agreed to the terms two days before an EU-Africa summit in Portugal. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is boycotting the summit because of the expected presence of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whom the European Union accuses of widespread human rights abuses.

Mauritius, the Seychelles and Zambia also agreed to the deal, although Zambia has opted out of the key trade provisions.

Comoros, Madagascar and Malawi were poised to initial the agreement in the coming days, and Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan may join later, said a joint statement issued by the European Commission and the African nations.

The EU says the deal will boost trade and help the development of African economies. It warns that nations with which it does not forge new agreements by January will automatically lose preferential trade privileges and receive only limited access to EU markets under existing world trade rules.

Similar interim joint deals were reached with Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi last month and with four other Southern African nations — Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique.

The agreements reached so far come after five years of arduous negotiations, and some of the interim deals do not include the opening up of services or other market sectors.

Under Thursday’s agreement, the 27-nation bloc says it will grant duty free, quota free market access to all goods exported by the four participating African nations, except for sugar and rice, which will be phased in. The deal will include African clothing exports even if they are made from fabric supplies from elsewhere.

The African nations agreed to gradually open their markets to European goods over a 15-year period. There is a longer, 25-year phase-in period for imports of finished and manufactured goods.

European agricultural goods will continue to face duties and tariffs.

The deal also offers greater access to European fish markets for African tuna.

The EU has split the ACP group into geographical regions with which they aim to conclude so-called Economic Partnership Agreements.

EU officials have said they remain hopeful of concluding a deal with the Pacific group and Caribbean group of nations before the WTO deadline. – Sapa-AP