Despite Zimbabwe signing a trade agreement giving it duty free access to the European Union (EU) market in 2009, government is yet to implement the deal because of the headaches it is facing in improving local standard of goods to match international standards.

Zimbabwe signed an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU in 2009, along with Mauritius, Madagascar and the Seychelles.

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The agreement was ratified three years later in 2012, giving the country’s products duty and quota-free access to the vast European market.

Regardless, the agreement is still to take effect due to the absence of a legislative framework and procedures, among other things, to facilitate its implementation.

Philippe Van Damme, the head of the EU delegation to Zimbabwe, said Zimbabwe has now been left out of a treaty which the European bloc recently signed with Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa owing to its failure to implement the agreement.

What it means is that its neighbours are now gaining easy access to the EU market, which has 500 million consumers while Zimbabwe licks wounds suffered as a result of its inaction.

Agriculture Minister, Joseph Made, acknowledged the existence of the deal at the launch of the EU-funded Zimbabwe sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) project last week in Harare.

The SPS project is meant to help local producers meet the standards expected of internationally competitive products and once the legislative framework has been secured it will also help them send goods into the EU.

Van Damme said Zimbabwe must work on its SPS to access the EU market.

“Duty and quota free access is not enough.

“In order to access the EU market, exporters must also conform to EU technical and safety standards. And to fully exploit the potential of the EU market and to be competitive, products entering into our market, in particular those products coming from high production cost environments such as Zimbabwe, must also meet high quality standards,” he said.

In 2015, Zimbabwe exported goods worth more than 400 million euros to the EU and at least 25 percent of those exports were made up of the country’s traditional export, tobacco, he added.

Other products that have found their way into Europe include sugar cane, hides and leather products, citrus products, peas, avocados and tea.

Van Damme said Zimbabwe must revisit its land tenure position to provide security of tenure, invest in modern technology and promote professionalism to help local producers be internationally competitive.

“So far, unfortunately, not enough producers can meet these conditions, but exporting to the European markets is possible, profitable and offers huge potential. It’s up to Zimbabwe now to find ways to unlock this potential,” said Van Damme.

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