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Kenya blames EU changes for stalled EPAs

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 1- The government now says structural changes within the European Union are partly to blame for derailing negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) whose set completion date was July last year.

Trade Minister Amos Kimunya said on Monday that the government would meet EU officials to establish the impact of those changes (EU changes) to the EPA negotiations however adding that they (the EPA) negotiations were still ongoing.

He also asked the East African business community to focus on the long-term objectives of the negotiations rather than the expired time line.

“There were changes within the EU at the commissioner’s level and we have been following that to see how the changes affect our ongoing negotiations. We will have a meeting this weekend to review where our negotiations have reached and then take a decision on the way forward. The important thing for us to remember is that all these negotiations must in the long run serve East Africa in the best possible way,” he said. 

Mr Kimunya further said it was difficult to put a yard stick indicating how far the negotiations had gone as the talks were not between two governments but between trading blocks.

“The East African Community (EAC) are not the only ones negotiating with the EU; we are part of COMESA so whatever happens within the EAC configuration affects us. Whatever is happening with South Africa affects us and whatever happens with ECOWAS (West African economic bloc) affects us. We therefore need to keep balancing what we have agreed as East Africa with other blocks. It will be foolish for us to rush discussions for purposes of completing without getting a good deal for our people,” he said.

He also maintained that trade between Kenya and the EU would continue as usual: “We are part of the global trading environment; with or without the EPAs we will still continue trading with the EU. The EPA is only a preferential sub agreement within the wider World Trade Organization (WTO) between two trading blocks.”

Mr Kimunya who was speaking during a joint press conference with officials from the United Kingdom’s business community added that Kenya’s new legislations (if passed) would also impact on the business community and subsequently impact other trading blocks.

“Trade operates within a rules-based regime and there are a lot of legislations that affect business. All the reforms that we are making within our land laws, within constitutional laws, within the wider business reforms as well as the licensing laws will be moving forward in tandem and we hope that the laws that come up will favour business,” he said.

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Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Executive of UK Trade Investment Susan Hird asked the Kenyan business community to engage the United Kingdom in bilateral trade to increase the probability of wealth creation.

She said the UK had seen an upsurge in business between Kenya and other international countries which indicated Kenya’s investment and trade potential. She added that the initiative would foster trade between Kenya and the UK.

“We have a mission coming to Kenya from the London Chamber of Commerce in March looking for opportunities for British companies. There is a lot of interest in bilateral trade between our two countries and I hope that my visit here will enable that trade to prosper,” she said.

She also added that the UK welcomed trade between Kenya and other international partners ruling out the threat posed by China’s continuous business interest in Kenya.

 “The UK is a firm believer of globalization which means competition and competition means that whoever is best placed to win a particular contract wins. Obviously it will be very nice for the UK if a lot of British companies win a lot of contracts in Kenya but China is an important trading partner for the UK so we are very comfortable with the Chinese winning contracts in Kenya,” she said.

The Trade Minister added that trade between Kenya and other partners would help the country achieve its national aspiration of Vision 2030.

“We both know we could do better in terms of increasing the volumes of trade and the levels of investment especially given the opening up of the markets. From a Kenyan perspective, in terms of opportunities arising from our Vision 2030, we will require heavy investment in infrastructure, in IAT and in market development where current and future investors could come in,” he said.

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