Namibia has recently undertaken a rapid trade and environment assessment, which identified potential green opportunities and likely threats from international trade law and technical standards. The assessment has ignited national debate among stakeholders from the often unconnected sectors of international trade, environment, agriculture, water, energy, tourism and others. The rapid assessment is the start of a process of greater collaboration between these previously distinct sectors, which will have the opportunity to collaborate to a greater extent in the future. Namibia's economy cannot compete with neighbouring South Africa's economic and infrastructural advantages, but the country can excel in some high-value niche areas, depending on how policy-makers plan ahead.
Namibia's vast, unpolluted environment and sound conservation achievements, including the world-leading Community-Based Natural Resource Management program, provide a competitive edge in markets where green labelling, eco-certification and fair trade schemes apply. However, these instruments are double-edged swords when they become requirements for market entry. The cost of obtaining certification can result in Namibian goods becoming uncompetitive. This policy brief highlights opportunities and areas for further attention and follow-up in the green labelling and eco-certification sectors.
Eco-certification is already used to some extent in Namibia, largely because of export market requirements.
Commercial operators driving the green-and-ethical trend respond to market demands from (mainly Western) consumers, who are in turn influenced by environmental campaigners, non-governmental organizations and the media. These demands are not easily addressed at the level of international trade negotiations.
To make the most of the opportunities and effectively manage the threats, Namibia must develop leadership and competence in the areas covered by eco-certification schemes, so that its products remain competitive and keep up with trends in rapidly evolving export markets.
Developing certification capacity in local institutions may lower the costs and complications associated with current eco-certification schemes. However, "self-certification" schemes from developing countries have not had very much success commercially, because consumers do not trust them to be independent.
Adopt credible eco-labels that conform to new and impending market requirements.
Explore capacity-building opportunities in eco-labelling by making full use of international opportunities.
Support initiatives by private sector organizations such as the Namibian Organic Association to create local eco-labels; explore possibilities for creating and adopting a national eco-label and provide for promoting the label in target markets.
Always make education and public awareness a priority for any policy initiative to be accepted and adopted.
Take steps to reduce the cost of certification. Encourage producers to form cooperatives or otherwise pool resources for certification. Develop mechanisms that can be used to bring small and medium-sized enterprises into such schemes without compromising the standards.
Explore branding strategies for indigenous Namibian natural products.