The East African community is currently involved in the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations with the European Union. (EU).
The states 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.
According to Prudence Sebahizi, Regional Integration Adviser in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation the EAC Common Market Negotiations which started in April 2008 have a target to be concluded and become effective in 2010.
In order for the developing countries to achieve significant export growth rates there is need to increase the range of their processed agricultural products accessing developed country markets.
She further highlighted on the importance of the common trade. “With a common market, the traders will have more bargaining power; the importers will experience low transactions and timely delivery and the consumers will have a wider choice and low prices,” she said.
Sebahizi mentioned that there has been a lot that has already been achieved in the negotiations.
“The areas that have already been covered include the free movement of persons and goods, total Elimination of tariff charges on goods originating from within the Community; the right of establishment and residence and the Coordination and harmonization of Policies as well as Cooperation in areas relevant to the Common Market,” she said.
According to the Head of international affairs unit (RRA) Vincent Gatete, the major changes in the customs laws include the adoption of EAC Customs law (The EAC Customs Management Act), raw materials within East africa are zero rated.
“However intermediate goods and finished goods are charged 10 percent and 25 percent respectively on Tax,” he said and added that all plant and machinery are also zero rated.
Gatete highlighted on new exemptions in the taxes which included goods for use by the president, goods for use by the partner states armed forces, a car and spare parts for Rally drivers and all aircraft operations.
Negotiations on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) are being finalized except for a few issues on capacity building to be considered within the domain of the EPA text on Economic and Development Cooperation.
“These negotiations are focused on technical infrastructure and capacity building to which the EC is expected to contribute in the context of Economic and Development Cooperation negotiations,” he added.
Talking on what has been done, Gatete said that there has been a sensitization campaign targeting opinion leaders in all 30 districts.
“We have held discussions with the business community in all 10 major commercial centers, we have also been Training the stakeholders that including clearing and forwarding agents, warehouse operators, the media, and investors in various clusters,” he added. RRA is embarking on a joint sensitization program with MINICOM and MINEAC.
In a statement prepared by Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACCORD RWANDA), the progress of EAC-EU EPA negotiations on the agriculture cluster, parties involved agreed that agriculture should be a separate chapter in the EPA text.
Rutazana Francine, ACCORD’s Food Security officer said that about 80 percent of the population of the EAC partner states live in the rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
“Development of the agriculture sector presents a great opportunity for poverty reduction in a sustainable manner.