The trade pact between the European Union (EU) and the six countries that make up the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has become effective four months after it was ratified. 

After more than a decade of talks, the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) was signed in June, giving Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland duty-free access to the EU. The Agreement took effect from 10 October.

For South Africa, the sixth country in the SADC, its products will see improved preferential treatment over and above what is already covered by the existing bilateral EU-South Africa Trade and Development Cooperation Agreement into the EU market. In particular, the agreement increases the flexibility of Southern African producers to put together products from components from various countries, without the risk of losing their free access to the EU market.

In an update last week, the EU said Mozambique is in the process of ratifying the EPA and will start applying the EPA once procedures are completed. While Angola did not sign the agreement it was part of the negotiations and may join the group in the future.

The EPA is a development-oriented free trade agreement that takes into account the different levels of development of each partner nation. It is the first of its kind between the EU and an African region pursuing economic integration, and replaces the trade provisions of the existing bilateral Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement between South Africa and the EU.

By signing the EPA, participants commit themselves to act towards sustainable development and to uphold social and environmental standards. The agreement also establishes a consultation procedure for environmental or labour issues and defines a comprehensive list of areas in which the partners will cooperate to foster sustainable development.

The pact also paves the way for other regional agreements to be signed with West Africa and the East African Community.