In the SADC EPA context, outstanding issues have been reduced to two: agricultural safeguards and export taxes, both of which potentially impact on the agri-food sector. According to ECDPM, during a meeting on the fringes of the Africa–EU Summit the EC “submitted two revised texts to the region”, in advance of a SADC region meeting in mid May to review the EC proposals.
The EC proposals reportedly included proposals for certain flexibilities on export taxes relating to “specific time, volume and value bound exemptions” and on agricultural safeguards related to the number of products that can be subject to agricultural safeguards.
The situation as regards the use of agricultural safeguards in the Namibian context was complicated in mid May when the Windhoek High Court ruled in favour of three dairy companies that had challenged the government’s introduction of restrictions on imports of milk products in 2013 (see Agritrade article ‘ Namibian dairy sector measures questioned by South African dairy company’, 11 April 2014).
The High Court found failings in the way the quantitative restrictions were introduced relating to the legal act of Parliament used, the consultation process that preceded the regulation, and the final decision-making process. The judgement thus set aside the government notice through which the import restriction on dairy products was introduced.
However, the Namibia government appealed the ruling in the Supreme Court, and so the government restrictions remain in force until the Supreme Court has ruled on the case. Consideration of the appeal is unlikely to begin before well into 2015.
In June 2014, special safeguards involving restrictions on imports of navel, Valencia, naartjie and minneola varieties of oranges were announced by the Botswana government with a view to protecting local producers. Orange production in Botswana is estimated at 5,691 tonnes of ordinary oranges, 56 tonnes of minneola and 45.5 tonnes of naartjies. According to government officials, “local farmers are reporting low volumes of sales despite the good quality of their oranges, due to influx of imports,” mainly from the giant South African citrus sector. As a result, some locally produced citrus has been destroyed.
The use of agricultural safeguards by Namibia would appear to be increasingly questioned both through the SADC–EU EPA negotiation process and through internal legislative challenges.
Given that the legal basis for introducing import restrictions in the poultry sector may also come under challenge from importing companies, the current questioning of Namibian government actions in the dairy sector could well signal a broader and increasing willingness by private sector operators to challenge government regulatory measures that restrict trade.
This could carry important implications for the future development of regional agricultural trade policy frameworks across Southern Africa, rendering non-tariff measures increasingly subject to judicial challenges in the context of general moves towards regional tariff liberalisation.
The recent restrictions introduced by Botswana in the citrus sector may in part be linked to stricter EU citrus black spot (CBS) controls, as South African producers that have withdrawn from EU export chains search for alternative markets (see Agritrade article ‘ Pressure on EC to act pre-emptively on South African citrus exports as n...’, 5 May 2014). These developments highlight the interconnectedness of inter- and intra-regional trade policy developments.