The European Union (EU) has asked Malawi to quickly return to the negotiation table and sign the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) as a matter of urgency.

EPAs are a set of agreements between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries aimed at promoting trade between the two groupings.

Over the past years, Malawi has been reluctant to sign the agreements as they have a provision which allows for the removal of all barriers for the entry of goods from European markets. A number of ACP countries fear an influx of EU products could easily suffocate budding local industries.

The EPAs seek out to help ACP countries integrate into the world economy and share in the opportunities offered by globalisation by enhancing trade beyond free market access through less strict rules of origin.

The agreements make it easier for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to export products with inputs from other countries called third-country inputs especially in key export sectors including agriculture, fisheries and textiles and clothing.

Speaking to journalists in Lilongwe on Thursday, EU ambassador Alexander Baum said time is running out for Malawi to sign the deal.

“EPAs tackle co-operation on trade-related issues – EPAs provide an opportunity to address complex issues affecting trade. EPAs boost regional markets and rules and provide for a broader approach to trade barriers. This will auger well with the president’s passion for trade and ambition to turn the country from a net importer to a net exporter,” Baum said.

He explained that while it is not automatic that Malawi which abandoned the negotiations during the late Bingu wa Mutharika administration would be accepted back, it is important for Malawi to return with urgency.

“It’s not automatic that Malawi will be taken on board because it just left the talks unceremoniously. It’s a political decision the EU commissioners will have to make. The president will meet EU’s commissioner for Trade Catherine Ashton during the Belgium trip but I am not sure if this will surface during the talks.

“However, I would urge Malawi to treat the matter with urgency and kicks-start talks because in a few years, the benefits that are there today, will not be there due to other agreements,” he said.

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