The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) was signed in June 2016 and has been provisionally implemented since October 2016. Various stakeholders are making efforts to ensure that the agreement is successfully implemented. Related to this agenda is the need to understand the role that a diversity of stakeholders, especially business and civil society, should play in implementation of the agreement. This is based on the acknowledgement that successful implementation of the agreement depends on the active engagement and inclusive participation of diverse stakeholders. It was against this background that, in July 2018, the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) organised a policy advisory seminar. The seminar brought together participants from government, business, and civil society with a view to provide a platform for knowledge-sharing and dialogue about the SADC EPA. Using insights shared during the seminar, MOSES TOFA discusses the role of business and civil society in implementation of the EPA.
Stakeholders recognise the need to ensure greater business and civil society involvement in implementation of the agreement. The SADC EPA is a complex trade agreement that needs to be simplified and made user-friendly and accessible to all stakeholders, including vulnerable, marginalised, and grassroots populations. Given civil society’s capacity to research, produce, and disseminate evidence-based knowledge, it is well-positioned to unpack and foster a better understanding of the EPA to enable stakeholders to contribute to the implementation process from an informed perspective.
Civil society plays an important role in promoting dialogue between different actors. It also builds their capacity to participate in EPA implementation through transferring knowledge and organising technical-training workshops, seminars, and roundtable discussions. However, it is important to establish clear and appropriate mechanisms through which civil society can engage in the implementation process. It is also important for civil society to have access to sustainable funding so that it can maintain its interventions as well as address institutional weaknesses that may undermine its capacity to play a meaningful and collaborative role.
It is important that trade agreements are systematically monitored and evaluated. Monitoring and evaluation enable parties to understand the impact of the agreement and whether implementation is in accordance with the principles and values on which it is built. It also enables parties to take measures to ameliorate or eliminate negative effects and deepen the benefits. As a participant in the finalisation of national and regional implementation plans, civil society should analyse the prospects and challenges presented by the EPA, particularly in relation to its impact on sustainable development, social justice, environmental justice, and regional integration. Civil society monitoring and evaluation should also ensure adherence to the agreement as well as transparency and accountability in its implementation. Implementation should be sensitive to the participation, needs, and interests of the poor and marginalised. However, it is important for the agreement to detail the manner and mechanisms through which civil society should play this role. This should include the creation of a dedicated mechanism for civil society engagement. Since provisional implementation of the EPA, civil society engagement has been ad hoc, yet it is vital.
It is also important to understand the role of labour groups such as trade unions in implementation of the EPA. These groups are well-positioned to voice concerns, especially about the impact of the EPA on workers, households, local communities, and the environment. However, there are some constraints that need to be dealt with in order for labour to play an effective role. One of the limitations is the lack of meaningful capacity among labour groups to engage with complex trade agreements. Making this more problematic, the exclusion of labour from the negotiations, and negative perceptions about the EPA, may act as a disincentive for labour’s participation. It is therefore essential not only to make greater efforts to involve labour in EPA implementation, but also to build its capacity to engage in trade negotiation and implementation processes more effectively
The business sector, along with civil society, should seek to define a knowledge-transfer agenda through which information about the SADC EPA may be disseminated to stakeholders. In addition, civil society and the private sector should produce studies on how micro- and macro-economic policies, and domestic and international trade, can be linked more effectively. Through their engagement in investment, trade, development, and employment forums, business leaders can bring greater clarity to the challenges and opportunities presented by the SADC EPA.
The EPA’s success depends on the creation of an administrative and regulatory environment that is good for doing business. Given that in some of the previous trade agreements, only larger firms with the capacity to produce and export have reaped significant benefits, there are fears that small and medium-sized firms may not significantly benefit from the EPA. To address these concerns, calls have been made to promote and support the export capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises. This promotes more inclusive trade and growth. The technical and productive capacity of such firms needs to be enhanced through measures such as the provision of training and advice on export requirements, the extension of credit facilities, and the sustainable funding of development cooperation projects.
The capacity-building agenda should target the specific needs and challenges faced by firms in different productive sectors. In addition, red tape and bottlenecks that make it difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises to access international markets should be addressed. In particular, the representation and participation of small-scale farmers in EPA implementation is important, particularly promoting investment in small-scale farmers and building the capacity of associations that represent their interests. This enables them to amplify their voices in trade deals. More broadly, the capacity of the business sector needs to be built. This is because it has limited capacity to fill the quotas agreed under the deal and to meet the industrial standards required of exports, and because the sector focuses on exporting unprocessed products and has limited capacity to establish sustainable regional value chains.
Dr Moses Tofa is a former Senior Researcher at the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CRR) in Cape Town.
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