KAMPALA - The East African Community and the European Union have agreed to proceed with negotiations on trade partnerships between the two blocs.
The EU had set December 31, 2007 as the deadline to sign the Economic Partnership Agreements, which require EAC member states to fully open up their markets to all EU products.
However, the two blocs yesterday instead signed a Framework Agreement in Kampala, Uganda, that would enable them to go ahead with the negotiations beyond the deadline.
This means that there would be no disruption even after the deadline.
The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) whose negotiations have gone on for the last 15 years have in the past been criticised by African countries for being unfair with most of them asking for more time.
The EAC is one of the clusters under the African Caribbean and Pacific bloc that have been separately negotiating with the European Union.
The Framework Agreement, according to a statement released yesterday by the EAC Secretariat, would comprise of trade in goods, market access, development cooperation and fisheries.
The deal was reached earlier this month during a meeting between the ministers and plenipotentiaries from EAC and EU commissioners in Brussels.
Another important element considered in the agreements support for regional integration. ‘Pursuant to this an EAC-EPA configuration was agreed upon by the two parties. This was similarly based on the summit’s directive that EAC as a Customs Union should negotiate all multilateral agreements as a bloc,’ the joint communiqué stated.
‘The Framework Agreement is deemed as the appropriate tool for ensuring non-disruption of trade between the EAC and EU and will also provide a mechanism for preservation and continuation of negotiations beyond December 31, 2007.
‘This Framework Agreement will be applied provisionally from January 1, 2007 until such a time that a Comprehensive and full EPA is negotiated and signed by both parties,’ it added.
Rwanda was represented by the State Minister for Industry and Investment Promotion, Vincent Karega, while other EAC member states were represented by either their trade ministers or diplomats accredited to Kampala.
Other EAC member states are Burundi, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
Under the deal, the European Commission granted the EAC a market access offer consisting of duty free and quota free, with transitional arrangements for rice and sugar.
The EAC partner states will also gradually open up their markets to goods from the EU over a period of 25 years.
Subsequently, about 80 per cent of exports from the EU are expected to enter the EAC market free of duties after 15 years.
The category will mainly cover industrial inputs and capital goods.
On economic and development cooperation, both parties affirmed their recognition of development needs for the EAC region.
Both parties agreed to work together to define and address the development needs associated with the EPA in order to promote sustained growth, strengthen regional integration and foster structural transformation and competitiveness to increase production, supply capacity and value addition of the EAC countries.
The two trading blocs agreed to meet in January 2008 in order to agree on a joint roadmap for negotiating a comprehensive EPAs with effect from early 2008. They also agreed to notify the World Trade Organisation of the development.