Guest Editorial:  Hon. Jomo Dlamini (MP), Chair of the SADC Parliamentary Forum Committee on Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment

Moving Beyond Rhetoric

It is my pleasure to be part of the team providing guest editorials to the epamonitoring net website. Since its launch a short while ago, this site has proved to be a critical source of information and analysis of  the implications of the yet to be fully implemented EPAs.

More so since the advent of Brexit, the site has been in the forefront, providing critical analysis on the possible impact of Brexit on ACP countries  and its implication for the ACPs’  future trade with the EU. This analysis cannot be made without considering the economies of the ACP countries, who for so long have been reliant on the EU as a trading partner. Brexit not only takes away a substantial part of the EU market to which many ACP countries export, but presents complex challenges in realigning relationships with the UK to minimise the adverse effects on ACP countries.

The site has been one of the very strong advocates for the ACP, arguing for unhindered access to the UK market for those countries that have been doing trade with the UK.

From interactions and discussions with peers and colleagues, I have observed that many MPs come into politics with an incomplete perception of the technical aspects of trade issues, and ultimately of what lies ahead in terms of advancing our national interests in an ever globalizing world. This is true of myself also. Public servants on the other hand, are well equipped, and fare much better in this regard because they are usually trained specialists in the field of public or trade policy.

Forums/publications like this one help to simplify the technical matters and enable legislators to think from a clearer  and informed point of view when enacting laws that support trade policy. I am glad to state that I have gleaned a better understanding of the complexities resultant from the decisions and policies of the bigger economies, and especially their impact on Developed Countries.

I hope that the selection of articles in all the ten volumes that have  been issued thus far, has been an invaluable asset to many politicians and trade practitioners in enhancing their understanding of the intricacies of trade policy, and has also inculcated the desire to explore issues more deeply and put in place tools and policies that will allow the ACP Countries to overcome the challenges before them, take the opportunities available to them, and harness the benefits. This is important, considering the enormity of and diversity of the issues faced by the ACP Member States.

Much has been said about EPAs, and about the new sugar regime affecting sugar producing ACP countries, with opinions on unfair trade practices by the EU and the like. As the year is drawing to a close (we are now in the second half), Sugar cane growing countries like Swaziland are faced with the daunting reality of the end of the sugar trade regime come 1 October  2017. For the rest of the ACP, it is the end of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement in 2020.

In these interesting times, no amount of political flamboyance and eloquent rhetoric will be enough to propel the ACP forward. Instead, it will be the sound and practical trade proposals put on the table, that will carry the day. These proposals and arguments must solely be based on economic studies and analysis; and Member States must be wary not to be in violation of WTO rules; which govern global trade.

At stake are the smallholder sugar cane growers and the small scale chicken and vegetable farmers. I cite the two because if you go to ACP countries, you will discover that most of the economic areas under threat from the open market regime are the areas where for generations, agriculture has been the mainstay of a large number of citizens in the ACP. This is where they derive most of their revenue. More sophisticated areas like Trade in Services and the Financial Services do not need much protection because they have historically been operated by multinationals and those in the upper class of society, who are more attuned to survive and accommodating competition. But when it comes to farming, the situation is different.

Recently there was a paper on the future of family owned farms, a very thorny issue considering that multi nationals are creating large farms buying off family owned farms in the ACP, creating mega operations that will eventually prise out those small scale farmers who try to resist this new order. The reality is that ACP markets are going to be awash with EU goods and commodities, if Member States do not put in place measure to control this.

This week I had the privilege of participating in The SADC Week, from the 31st July to 4th August in Johannesburg, South Africa, in my capacity as Chairman of the Trade Industry Finance and Investment committee of the Southern Africa Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) whose theme was “SADC Industrialization.” This forum was intended to bring together the minds of the region and beyond, with the intention of fostering regional co-operation.

On  the issue of trade agreements, the participants were reminded that instruments like EPAs and AGOA (for those countries selling to the US market), are mere facilities that must be fully exploited in order for them to have the desired effects. This observation then led to another observation that in order for the ACP countries to fully exploit these instruments, they first must focus on improving their competitiveness, have national export strategies, produce adequate raw materials and turn them into finished products and finally stop being a source of raw materials, and instead do the value addition on a wide range of products prior to export to the EU and other markets.

Colleagues, what is important and urgent at this juncture is face up to the changes which lie ahead, so we can reap benefits wherever possible. New realities require fresh thinking and practical solutions, with a need to gather the low hanging fruits first. A reengineering of processes is required to prevent the complete collapse of trade under the weight of competition. The reality is that Brexit is here; the end of sugar quotas is here, the EPAs have been negotiated and must now be implemented to the best advantage of  ACP countries. The onus is on us, let us take the bull by the horns!

Hon. Mfanawemakhosi (Jomo) Dlamini, MP,

Has been a Member of Parliament of The Kingdom of Swaziland since 2008. He is the Deputy Chairman of the Portfolio Committee on Economic Planning and Development and has been a member of the Public Accounts Committee since 2008. He is also Chairman of the Committee on Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment of the SADC Parliamentary Forum.  This Committee is currently tasked with the promotion of the SADC industrialization strategy, with a focus on the legislative reforms needed to improve access to quality and affordable medicines by exploiting the Doha agreement using TRIPS flexibilities.

He has been a member of The ACP-EU JPA since 2013, with his interventions focusing on the role of agriculture and particularly the sugar industry, in which smallholder farmers are playing an increasing role. He attaches high priority to promoting  the interests of small holder sugar cane farmers in the context of the changes underway, as he strongly believes that if their interests are not protected, their extinction may not be far away from now. He has used his position in the JPA to lobby for the sugar cane industry among his peers and with the EU commission.