The East African Community (EAC) clinched a deal with the European Union (EU) which allows for a continuation of negotiations on trade partnerships between the blocs. This gesture comes just weeks after member states within the Africa Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping met here in Kigali and asked for more time to study the new trade deals known as the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).
Unfortunately member states within the ACP have only a month to decide whether to adopt the EPAs or the Europeans would impose higher tariffs as a consequence.
There is a feeling among many African negotiators that Europe is using the excuse of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules to rush the negotiations.
While we appreciate the urgency with which EAC handled the matter by signing a provisional deal with the EU on Tuesday, our leaders in the regional community should not hurry to bow to the mounting pressure.
An analysis done on the potential impact of the EPAs prepared by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) shows that the proposed opening up of 80 per cent of trade of the EAC with Europe, will result in loss of tariff revenue of up to $130m per year.
Rwanda and a number of other African countries have already introduced 100 percent customs tariff waivers on commodities originating from certain regional communities. Already billions of Francs are being lost through this process although there are certainly significant benefits that accrue from regional communities.
Now with EPAs, it means that the already struggling African producers will have to compete directly with their European counterparts who hitherto enjoy subsidies.
Any hurried commitment by developing nations would subsequently see our economies undergoing significant dislocations with regional trade losing ground at the expense of European imports.
It is equally important to note that Africa’s exports to Europe are nowhere close to match what Europeans export to Africa.
That is why leaders of developing countries shouldn’t scatter their efforts by splitting themselves into geographical locations, but rather devise a common approach in their negotiations with the EU.
As our leaders travel to Lisbon next month for the EU-Africa Summit, they should be able to advocate for a poor African producer whose efforts could be shattered in the face of stiff unfair competition.