EU, French and Portuguese Ambassadors: discussion

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International Relations

15 March 2000
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

15 March 2000

Chairperson: Mr E I Ebrahim

South Africa and representatives of the European Union affirmed their commitment to trade agreement. A discussion ensued around the issues of the EU's commitment to development in Africa, in view of what South Africa perceived as a protectionist stance in the trade agreement. South Africa raised the question of Europe's moral responsibility to Africa, given the historical context of colonialism. The EU confirmed its commitment to development in Africa, and pointed to the Africa-Europe Summit in Cairo in April as evidence of this.

The Chair introduced the three guests, the Ambassador of Portugal to South Africa, HE Dr. M. Fernandes Pereira, the French Ambassador to South Africa, HE Tristan d'Albis and the Ambassador of the European Union (EU), Michael Laidler.

The Portuguese Ambassador gave a briefing on the efforts to develop the free trade deal between the European Union and South Africa. He asserted that this is not only a trade deal but also an agreement for continued political co-operation, through which political dialogue can be reinforced and there can be economic integration. He also referred to the upcoming African-European Summit in Cairo, which will take place on 3-4 April. The Summit will signal that, despite the long history of African-European relations, it is time for a new partnership as equals.

(Q) Dr R. Davies (ANC) Will the bilateral agreement be implemented now or does the EU anticipate more obstacles? Will the concessions for port and sherry be implemented? What will be the composition of the Co-operation Commission meeting in Pretoria?

(A) EU: Provisional implementation of the agreement began in January 2000; provisional because the agreement is subject to ratification by all members of the EU. This can be a protracted process, particularly if there is a change of government in one of the ratifying states.

The disagreement during negotiations over the use of the names "ouzo" and "grappa" is an outward symbol that reflects the inner differences of the negotiating parties. The agreement has never faltered since January when it was provisionally implemented; therefore, the EU is confident that there are no remaining obstacles to implementation. There remains one other agreement to be negotiated in the area of fisheries.

The meeting in Pretoria will be chaired by EU representative, Philip Lowe and should cover the state of fisheries and wine, as well as tariff aspects. It will set up a working group for trade and financial and technical co-operation. It will also establish a committee for the implementation of the Science and Technology agreement with the Co-operation Committee. The treaty ensures continued co-operation with South Africa; that is to say, to maintain the current level of co-operation.

(Q) When will the agreement be referred to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for approval?

(A) When we agree on the terms for submission. This should be a simple process; we have to write a letter together and send the text of the agreement, showing its conformity with the WTO requirements.

(Q) What is the basis for the objections of the EU to South Africa's use of the traditional expressions "grappa", "ouzo", "sherry" and "port"? Will similar restrictions be put on the sale of, for example, South African brie and camembert cheeses in France?

(A) There is no question of the significance of these products in South Africa; rather, the objection is one of principle, that being the protection of certain expressions. Trade negotiations are always long and this agreement is a very good one for South Africa.

(Q) Prof. B. Turok (ANC): Negotiations give an understanding of what the other side wants. South African fears that the EU wants to establish a principle that the WTO has never embraced previously. Why is the EU trying to establish a new principle of monopolisation and protectionism? This is the issue, not the length of the negotiations.

Dr Z. Jordan (ANC): The EU can engage in piecemeal adaptations to trade in South Africa or it can engage in a constructive programme from which the EU itself would benefit. Europe had an aid programme following WWII. The most recent world war was in Africa. Does not Europe, as colonisers who benefited from Africa, now have a moral responsibility to Africa and its development? If we consider the historical relationship between Europe and Africa, does it not point to an historical responsibility for the re-generation of Africa? Africa needs a holistic, cohesive approach.

Mrs F. Mahomed (ANC): What is your approach to Africa?

(A) Europe wants a stronger relationship with Africa. We are prepared to speak not only of trade, but also of moral responsibility. The upcoming Cairo Summit will address a broad spectrum of issues, such as peace-building and development, rather than being restricted to trade. The approach now is to a new partnership with a new philosophy. Perhaps the agreement is protectionist, but what is wrong with that? The fact is that in order for an agreement to be meaningful, it has to have something for everyone. The EU has put everything on the table from the beginning. An agreement cannot be one-sided or charitable. The agreement we have made is a strong one because it benefits all parties.

(Q) This is a protectionist issue. If it were only ouzo, it would have no significance, but what if this approach were to extend to other areas of trade?

(A) It is hard to enunciate the fear of protectionism in terms of our actual agreement. Intrinsically, it is one of the least protectionist agreements there is. The EU wants to establish the normal rules of international trade; it is not normal to let another country use or copy an established brand. That's all.

(Q) Ms. F. Hajaij (ANC): What about the fisheries agreement?

(A) This depends on what kind of agreement South Africa wants. We acknowledge that South Africa fears over-fishing by Europeans but it is not our mandate to seek unagreed upon and unco-operative fishing quotas in South Africa. There will be no quotas for European fishers under this agreement.

(Q) Mrs F. Mahomed (ANC): What is your approach for development in Africa as a whole? How can you suggest we can co-operate as "equal" partners when we are not? We have grave problems of infrastructure, as well as economic and human resources.

(Q) Mrs B. Ntuli (ANC): Is it proper to industrialise Africa so that it will be self-sustaining?

(A) The EU has no expectation that we will be at the same level and we do not want our new partnership to be Eurocentric. We want to listen to Africa. South Africa has a fundamental role in Africa and the EU wants to help South Africa on the terms it defines. Do not ask only what the EU is doing to help Africa, but also ask what is Africa itself doing? We have no prescription for this, but the EU wants a commitment to South African stability. It will be hard to persuade Europeans to give money to Africa since the idea exists that resources spent in Africa will not be used as intended. The EU and the ACP can work together to change this impression.

(Q) Prof. B. Turok: This interaction is important and we need more. If African commodities were sold for their true value, the whole question of "aid" might fall away. What if we were able to sell commodities at their real prices for reasonable returns?

Dr R. Davies: The real issue is that the world has an unequal liberalisation, so developing countries encounter protectionism. There should be adjustments in the approach of developing countries in that development should be placed above monopolies. It is encouraging that we have seen some sign of this today.

The meeting adjourned


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