Civil society groups in the East African Community (EAC) have reiterated their call for a review of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) deal to address all the issues raised by key stakeholders.
Rebecca Tanui of Kenya-based CSO, Building Eastern Africa Community Network (BEACON), said maneuvers by Kenya to lobby other states to sign EPAs deal between EAC and European Union should be ignored.
She urged EAC member states to first sensitise their citizens on the implications of signing the EPAs and also involve their national parliaments and more stakeholders.
Tanui urged Rwanda, Kenya, and Burundi to move cautiously. She added that the pullout of Tanzania and Uganda provides an opportunity for the region to review the deal to ensure EAPs benefit the masses.
The EAC bloc was slated to sign the EPAs deal with the EU in the first week of October. The EPAs provide for EAC exports access to European markets duty-free and quota-free, while the European Union access to EAC market provides for a “gradual liberalisation of tariffs” over three phases spanning 25 years. EPAs will replace the African, Caribbean and Pacific-European Union Partnership Agreement (ACP-EU) signed in June 2000 in Cotonou, Benin.
TZ, Uganda walk away
Last month, Tanzania announced it would not sign the agreement at a time when it was believed the deal would be concluded on June 18, in Nairobi. Uganda also said the region would sign the EPAs deal only after fully studying it, without committing itself to the earlier set date.
This means Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi are the only countries that have not raised any objection to the deal.
However, Kenya has been carrying out a lot of lobbying since then to convince the two countries to relax their stance.
The World Trade Organisation guidelines do not allow countries to sign deals related to trade individually.
“EAC policy-makers and negotiators should not succumb to the pressure to sign the EPAs if the terms of the deal are not reviewed to protect the region’s structural transformation and sustainable development,” Tanui said in an interview last week.
Tanui added that the EPAs deal in its present form puts the region’s industrial sector at stake.
“Therefore, member states should first harmonise their ratification processes, and involve their respective parliaments for transparency and to allow for more stakeholders’ engagements. We should look for alternatives to EPAs to boost both intra-African and south-south trade,” she said last week.
She said EAC should promote intra-regional trade, and the continental free trade area which is planned for 2017.
African leaders last year agreed to create the continent’s largest free-trade zone, covering 26 countries. This will be made up of the three existing regional economic blocs - the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), EAC, and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
TFTA seeks to remove trade barriers on most goods, making them cheaper, and stimulating $1 trillion worth of economic activity across the region of over 600 million people.
These initiatives, experts argue, present the region a much bigger market than that of the EU.
“This is a much bigger market. Besides, our goods are more competitive on the African market compared to Europe which has a lot of restrictions. Therefore, we should not sacrifice the future industries and all these opportunities to continue exporting some raw agricultural goods to Europe,” Tanui said.
“The objective now is to industrialise and add value to our agricultural products. We cannot do this with EPAs because high quality and affordable goods from the EU will flood our market.”
No need to rush
Jean Bosco Kanyangoga, a Kigali-based private trade consultant, said the main concern with the EPAs is on development component, adding that this issue should be discussed further to ensure that opening the regional market does not suffocate local industries and other sectors.
“It is critical to provide more time to deliberate on some of these concerns,” he said, adding the deal should cater for development need of the region. “These concerns should first be discussed before rushing to sign the deal,” he said.
Kenya exports 30 per cent of its cut flower and other horticulture products to the EU, which experts say is the key reason Kenya is pushing for the signing of EPAs.
Kenya is categorised as a developing nation and will lose benefits provided by the Cotonou agreement, which will not be the case for Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi as they are in the least developed nations group.