SA urges EU breakthrough in trade talks
Zuma forced to defend government response to mine strikes
South African President Jacob Zuma urged EU leaders Tuesday to break a deadlock in talks on an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the 15 nations of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
“I expressed my concern that several key issues in the EPA negotiations remain still to be resolved,” Zuma said after a summit with European Union president Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.
“This situation is indeed unsustainable, but of course we believe we’ll resolve all the issues that need attention,” he added, calling for “more understanding and flexibility” from the EU side.
The EU is South Africa’s largest trading partner — accounting for nearly a third of the country’s trade in 2010 — and also its most important donor, providing some 70% of aid in what is the EU’s largest bilateral envelope.
But a bid to agree by 2013 on a wide-ranging EPA with the SADC countries, some among them the world’s poorest, appears deadlocked over trade tensions between South Africa and the EU.
Barroso said the South African side was “sincerely” committed to striking an agreement and that he hoped to see progress at a new round of talks late this year.
“But I’d rather not set a specific date, as I’ve learnt to be prudent,” he added.
An EU source said earlier that South Africa was demanding more access to the EU market, the world’s biggest, for its agricultural products, including wine.
A diplomat said Brussels had made an offer and was awaiting a response. “We’re not asking [for] the moon. There’s an offer on the table to which South Africa must respond.” A deal would be particularly beneficial to nations such as Namibia or Botswana.
Since 2004, trade between the EU and South Africa has increased by 128% and the 27-nation bloc accounts for three-quarters of direct foreign investment in the country.
Zuma, who was accompanied by five ministers, meanwhile hailed “progress” in ties with the EU while calling for more investment in South Africa’s infrastructure projects and in science and technology.
With the first ever EU-South Africa business summit taking place on the sidelines, Zuma also said he believed the country’s response to the August tragedy at Lonmin’s Marikana would not deter new investment.
“I believe the manner in which we quickly attended to the situation must give comfort to investors,” he said.
The trouble at Lonmin, the world’s third largest platinum producer, over a wage dispute in which 45 people died, has spread to surrounding mines.