The European Union yesterday urged the five members of the East African Community to sign a long-delayed trade deal with the EU when EAC ministers gather at a regional meeting today.
Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have gained access to the EU’s markets because they initialled the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), but because they have so far refused to sign, there are no legally binding commitments.
“More than two years after initialling the Framework EPA the East African Community has not signed it yet. The situation, as it stands now, is untenable,” Timothy Clarke, head of the EU delegation in Tanzania, said in a statement.
“This (situation) is inconsistent and in fact the current situation is contrary to both EU law and World Trade Organisation rules,” he said from Arusha in northern Tanzania.
The EPA was meant to replace current preferential agreements struck down by the World Trade Organisation.
“Further delay is also a missed opportunity for the EAC to further integrate into the world economy and sends mixed signals at a time when the EAC is pushing for broader regional integration.”
“I would encourage EAC Trade Ministers meeting tomorrow to give a clear signal that they are willing to sign.”
In 2007 EAC members agreed a framework of the agreement, whose negotiations were meant to conclude on July 31, 2009, when a deal was also meant to be signed.
Last year Tanzania’s trade minister said the EAC may delay signing the deal as fresh voluntary trade-related issues like government procurement, environment and sustainable development had been introduced to the negotiations.
Of the five EAC members, Kenya is the only one not classified as a Least Developed Country. As such it stands to lose if the deal is not signed, as the rest would still be eligible to export goods to the EU under the Everything But Arms agreement.
EAC has a combined gross domestic product of $73.3 billion and a population of close to 127 million. It already has a customs union, and a common market is due to take effect in July.