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EU pressures seven African countries to complete trade agreements

Botswana, Namibia, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Swaziland face paying tariffs on exports to EU

Seven African countries face paying tariffs on their exports to the EU if they fail to honour trade agreements signed with Brussels in 2007.

The European parliament granted the African countries an extension until October 2014 to ratify their interim economic partnership agreements (EPAs). 17 countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group have not ratified or implemented the agreements.

The EPA allows countries to export goods to the EU without tariffs or maximum quotas, under World Trade Organisation rules. The countries benefited from the agreement without delays to avoid disrupting exports, principally towards Europe. In a regulation, the European commission permitted the countries to maintain their privileged trade status, already upheld in the Cotonou agreement, which expired in 2007.

EU’s harder line

Since then, the EU executive has taken a harder line. In 2011, it proposed suspending the agreement if the countries did not ratify the EPA by January 2014. The parliament voted in a strong majority to extend the deadline to October 2014, in a second reading.

Botswana, Namibia, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Swaziland have not completed the agreement. They, along with the Pacific nation of Fiji, risk falling into a stricter commercial regime if they fail to meet the deadline. The others – including Haiti, Burundi and Rwanda – will be covered due to their status as least developed countries.

But some parliamentarians from the Greens and the Socialists and Democrats group felt the deadline should have been extended to January 2016 to allow more “breathing space”. The parliament had adopted that deadline in a first reading in September 2012.

WTO pressure

This time EU lawmakers voted for a compromise deal found with heads of states and government in the European council.

“Allowing unilateral and free access to certain countries is a violation of the WTO’s rules and is clearly only a temporary solution … The time has come to fix a deadline,” said British Labour MEP David Martin, who drafted parliament’s report.

“We regret that the parliament and the council of the EU did not accept our proposal to give these African countries enough breathing space in negotiations.”

Under the current agreement, the African countries benefit from very favourable terms compared with their international competitors for exports to Europe notably of certain food including bananas, tuna, beef and sugar.

Some Latin American and emerging countries have protested the exception at the WTO, labelling it as discriminatory.

Caught in the crossfire

To the secretary general of the ACP group, Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, the deadline harms the countries involved by forcing them to ratify interim EPA agreements that are counterproductive to regional integration. “The states are encouraged to trade with the EU but not among themselves,” he said.

Launched in 2002, negotiations over parallel regional EPAs are ongoing in five African subregions. They aim to liberalise the trade in goods, as well as services, investment, and market access rules. But discussions have stalled on several points, including the suspension of free trade following human rights abuses.

Ministers will meet at the WTO in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2013 in an attempt to reignite the Doha development agenda, which has aimed since 2001 to lower trade barriers and revise trade rules for developing nations.

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Africa and Australasia to share Square Kilometre Array telescope

Ten countries across two continents will share location of world’s most powerful radio telescope

Australia and South Africa will share the location of the world’s most powerful radio telescope, a scientific consortium has announced.

The €1.5bn (£1.2bn) Square Kilometre Array, or SKA, has been hailed as one of the biggest scientific projects of the 21st century.

“We have decided on a dual site approach,” said the SKA chairman, John Womersley, at a press conference in Schiphol airport, Amsterdam.

SKA’s huge fields of antennas – equivalent to about 200 football pitches – will search the sky for answers to the major outstanding questions in astronomy.

South Africa and Australasia had put forward rival bids, and early indications indicated there would be one outright winner. Reports suggest South Africa’s was technically superior, but it was decided that both proposals should contribute to the final design of the telescope.

A source close to the talks said South Africa had emerged with the lion’s share of the project, with about 70%. There has been no official confirmation of this estimate.

Australia’s bid involves New Zealand; South Africa’s will involve dishes erected in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.

Members of the South African team had previously criticised the idea of sharing the telescope, noting that it could involve a climb in costs. However, they adopted a more upbeat tone on Friday: “It’s obvious that we would have preferred the whole thing to be in Africa, but we recognise the need for inclusivity and to maximise the investments that have already been made,” Dr Bernie Fanaroff, project director, told the Guardian.

“It’s a fantastic day … This is one of the world’s biggest scientific instruments and it’s going to be in Africa … It shows confidence in the technical competence of our people,” he added.

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