EU inks trade deals with southern African states

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BRUSSELS, Nov 24 (Reuters) The European Commission and four states in southern Africa initialled a new trade deal opening the way for what Brussels hopes will be several agreements with former European colonies, the Commission said.

In a breakthrough after more than five years of talks, negotiators from the EU and Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho inked a new Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) yestrday covering trade in goods, the EU executive said.

Angola wished to join the agreement ''as soon as possible'' while the region's economic heavyweight South Africa and Namibia ''will determine their participation in the agreement in the coming days,'' the Commission said in a statement.

South Africa already has a separate trade deal with the EU.

The European Commission wants to formally sign EPAs with the six regions of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP) of countries before December 31.

EU trade chief Peter Mandelson has said the new deals will help the nearly 80 ACP countries to develop regional economies of scale that will attract foreign investment, helping them break their centuries-old reliance on basic commodity exports.

But development campaign groups such as Oxfam have slammed the deals as unfair for the ACP countries, potentially opening up their economies to too much competition from the EU.

Reuters TB VP0420

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