The European Parliament cleared the way Wednesday for a new trade agreement between the European Union and six southern African countries, approving the deal despite concerns among European farmers.
"This agreement will help our African partner states to reduce poverty and can also facilitate their smooth and gradual integration into the world economy," said EU lawmaker Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, who shepherded the file through the parliament.
The agreement grants duty-free access to the EU for products from Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland, while also improving market access for South Africa, which has one of the largest economies in Africa.
Angola also has an option to join the agreement in the future.
The European farmers' organizations Copa and Cogeca had warned ahead of Wednesday's vote that trade concessions on imports of oranges, sugar and ethanol from the southern African countries would "undermine EU producers and risk worsening the economic climate."
But the parliament approved the deal with a 417-216 vote. EU member states now have to give their final blessing to the agreement, a move that is expected to be a formality. Once the six countries ratify the deal, it will enter into effect.