RE: “Why EAC countries should sign the EPA” (The New Times, September 17). First a necessary correction, Burundi is not under any trade embargo; the EU has merely withdrawn its official financial assistance to the country to show its displeasure with the illegality and murderousness of the government now in power Bujumbura. I am also not sure in the current situation, Brussels would in fact welcome Burundi's signature of the EPA, given the fact the EU views Burundi's de facto government as being illegal.
As for Tanzania's opposition to the EPA, it seems to me to lack any basis. It has taken 14 long years for this agreement to be negotiated, and Dar es Salaam was represented in the process throughout. The agreement has taken account of all the concerns from the different EAC member states, incorporating the needed safeguards to protect nascent industries against competition from more advanced mature EU operators.
In my view, Dar es Salaam's fears are informed more by knee-jerk ideological considerations than the cold, rational understanding of national interest that successful international trade negotiations require.
Suffice to say that EAC's failure to sign the EPA would be damaging to the Kenyan economy. That would in turn do serious damage to our Community as Kenya is our largest economy as well as now the largest investor in our economies.
In addition, refusal to sign would tag the Community as an unreliable negotiating partner that engages in a process and then reneges on commitment to the outcome. This is not a reputation we should want as, in international relations, the reliability of a partner is a strategic asset beyond compare. You may have many other positive attributes, but the moment your international partners conclude that you cannot be relied upon to honour your word (good or bad) and engagements, you become toast.
It is also worth noting that, like the United States’ AGOA, the current 'Anything But Guns' preferential duty-free trade regime applied by the EU to imports from least developed countries is a unilateral voluntary arrangement that can be withdrawn at the pleasure of the side extending such a facility. The EPA, on the other hand, aims at establishing a legally binding framework on both sides that cannot be rescinded by one party at its pleasure. The benefits of this contractually more binding relationship with Europe should be obvious to EAC member states.
The author argued that: “When the cows graze, they never finish grass for one another...”
Please note that that is only true when the cows are of the same standard (for lack of a better word). Mix Inyambo with a Friesian in the same feeding ground and you will notice how competition for grass will be a disaster for one of the two. I suggest that we first practice these trade agreements with peers (EAC, COMESA, ECOWAS, SADC...) and after learning from this experience, then we can have a benchmark to negotiate with others.