By REBECCA MUSHOTA -
MEMBERS of Parliament (MPs) have challenged the Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) to spearhead the process of Zambia signing Economic Partnerships Agreements (EPAs) with European countries.
The Parliamentary committee on Economic Affairs challenged the CTPD through its executive director Isabel Mukelebai to push the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry to speed-up the process of signing the EPAs.
Zambia with other members of the East and Southern Africa countries (ESA) have been discussing with European Union (EU) countries since 2007 on the possibility of signing EPAs.
ESA nations have indicated that they want to conclude the discussions by the end of 2015 after missing the initial deadline of October 2014.
Economic Affairs committee chairperson, United Party for National Development (UPND) MP for Siavonga Kennedy Hamududu said politicians were apprehensive about EPAs because they felt Zambia stood to lose out.
Mr Hamududu said it was therefore the duty of CTPD to push the Ministry of Commerce because the organisation was aware of the benefits that Zambians stood to gain from signing EPAs with EU
“Politicians including myself are apprehensive about signing these EPAs and it is not our priority. It is up to you to push Ms (Margaret) Mwanakatwe and her team at the ministry to prioritise consultations at
the country level and at ESA level so that we can sign these EPAs or do away with the discussions altogether because they have taken too long,” he said.
Lunte MMD MP Felix Mutati said Zambia was not signing the EPAs because it could be suffering from fear of disadvantaging some economic sectors due to stiff competition from European players.
Mr Mutati said CTPD should, however, advise all stakeholders that there was no substitute to competition.
Ms Mukelebai said she had accepted the challenge of spearheading the discussions and would start the process among the private sector and the Civil Society Organisations.
She said it was important that since Zambia was chairing ESA, it should take a leading role of holding consultative meetings at the country level and see how the agreements could be made pro-poor.
Ms Mukelebai said Zambia stood to gain more if she signed as part of ESA rather than on its own.
She said in those agreements, there was need to safeguard some sectors like agriculture because EU had heavily subsidised such sectors and their products could end up flooding the country as they would be cheaper.
Zambia had a duty, Ms Mukelebai said, to show leadership being chair of ESA and push other countries in the region to conclude the negotiations before end of 2015.