Harare,22 February 2012/ AllAfrica.com: ZIMBABWE’S trade with the European Union increased by 36 percent last year, reaching 664 million euros from 488 million euros in 2010, the European Union Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Aldo Dell’Ariccia, has said.

Ambassador Dell’Ariccia said initial data on Zimbabwe-EU trade in 2011 showed improvements in both imports and exports.

The ambassador was speaking at a seminar on the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement hosted by ZimTrade yesterday.

“Preliminary figures show that trade between Zimbabwe and the EU reached 664 million euros in 2011 as Zimbabwe’s exports to the EU increased by 47 percent,” he said.

He said the improvement in trade between the two partners was also driven by EU exports to Zimbabwe, which went up by more than a quarter.

Trade with the EU currently constitutes around 30 percent of Zimbabwe’s total exports. As the second largest trading partner to Zimbabwe, trade between the EU and Zimbabwe has almost doubled since 2009.

Meanwhile, trade between the two partners is set to receive a further boost as Zimbabwe is now very close to completing the ratification of the iEPA.

Ministry of Industry and Commerce director for international trade Mrs Beatrice Mutetwa, told the seminar the ratification process was almost complete following approval by Parliament.

“Both the Lower House and the Upper House approved the country’s ratification of the iEPA in December last year,” she said.

“What is left is simply to deposit the instruments of ratification, which we anticipate should be completed by March.”

Ambassador Dell’Ariccia urged Zimbabwe to have fully ratified the iEPA by March 14, which is when the next significant meeting between the EU and ACP members on the issue of iEPAs will be held, so that it can benefit from full membership.

Economic Partnership Agreements are a scheme to create a free trade area between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States.

They are a response to continuing criticism that the non-reciprocal and discriminating preferential trade agreements offered by the EU are incompatible with World Trade Organisation rules.

The EPAs are a key element of the Cotonou Agreement, the latest agreement in the history of ACP-EU Development Co-operation and were supposed to take effect in 2008. But concerns by some ACP members have led to protracted negotiations, leading to the setting up of iEPAs as a temporary measure.

Zimbabwe entered into an interim EPA with the EU in 2009, giving the country a 100 percent duty-free quota free access into the EU market with a transition period for rice and sugar.

Zimbabwe in turn will liberalise 80 percent of imports from the EU by 2022, 45 percent by 2012 with the remaining 35 percent of imports being liberalised progressively until 2022.

The EPA scheme is also considered a mechanism for countries such as Zimbabwe to manage liberalisation of the economy, as it allows some room for them to manoeuvre and to maintain some limited protection of their most vital products.

There are concerns, however, that Zimbabwe’s full EPA ratification will pose further challenges for local industry, which is currently uncompetitive as a result of the liquidity challenges in the market and high operating costs.

By Tawanda Musarurwa/ AllAfrica