NAIROBI, October 6 – The East African Community and the European Union will have a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) by July 2009.
EAC Director General for Customs and Trade Peter Kiguta told Capital Business on Monday that the negotiations, which were started in March 2008, had been successful and they hoped to conclude the outstanding issues in the next 10 months.
“We held a (negotiating) meeting with the EU in September and another one is scheduled for mid-November. So far, we have moved very fast because we are negotiating on the legal text and hope to be through before the expiry of our term,” he said.
The comprehensive EPA will replace the interim framework agreement initialled by the two blocs in November 2007 and will spell out how trade issues between the two regions will be dealt with.
All countries negotiating under different configurations had to sign some agreements before concluding their negotiations to avoid the disruption of trade following the expiry of the Cotonou Agreement by January 2008 and also to comply with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) requirement.
Mr Kiguta said the ‘trade in services’ was one of the issues they hoped to start discussing with the EU as soon all the EAC partner states were able to come up with a common position.
He clarified that the delay was not caused by disagreements between the EAC and the EU but by preparatory process.
“Usually, we do thorough preparations because we have to come up with an EAC position that we put forward to EU and defend it while negotiating,” he explained.
Mr Kiguta said the process had been all- inclusive as the civil society organisations and the private sector had participated in the high level delegation meetings.
The civil society has been calling on the EAC to lobby for an alternative to EPAs such as the Generalized System of Preferences or GSP plus saying this would give them enough time to liberalize their markets at their own pace.
The government has however insisted that it prefers a negotiated trade deal arguing that an alternative would expose the region exports to high tariffs.
“EAC got a very good deal. We were able to negotiate for a time frame that could allow us to have internal consultations,” Mr Kiguta boasted pointing out that other blocs have until December 2008 to conclude the deal.
Under the trade accord, EU is expected to allow the EAC to export a wider range of items to its market. The member states will however be required to gradually open up their markets, although some products such as rice and sugar, which have been categorized under the ‘sensitive list’, will always be protected.