The Observer, Kampala
East Africa: Deadlines Mar EAC - EU Trade Talks
By Joseph Olanyo
9 May 2012
East African Community (EAC) legislators and civil society organisations (CSOs) have urged the European Commission (EC) to desist from making unrealistic deadlines in trade negotiations; rather, negotiations should be driven by content rather than time frames. The EAC states and the European Union are negotiating trade arrangements referred to as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA). The agreement has various components of mutual development cooperation and one such component is trade. A joint statement released at the end of a two-day EAC/EU Parliamentary conference on consolidating (EPA) in Arusha on April 27, notes that the EC, which is the negotiating arm of the EU, was using policy leverage through deadlines, threats and other tactics in the negotiations to the detriment of a mutually beneficial agreement.
"There has been a lot of pressure from the EU region to complete the negotiations. The EAC must rethink its development paradigm. We need a clear common vision and strategy that should direct us where we want to go," said Jane Nalunga Country Director SEATINI Uganda.
Kenyan MP Musikari Kombo said parliamentarians need to find their niche in the whole EPA process so that they can keep their eyes on the negotiators. "We are not going to negotiate on the basis of intimidation. No deal is better than a poor deal. Kenya has moved a notice of motion that Kenya does not sign EPAs in its current form," Kombo said.
"The EC has identified their interests. If we go for negotiations and we don’t know our interests, then they will ride over us."
Kasaija Kagwera, the chairman of the Uganda parliamentary committee on Trade, said the EAC region should keep its options open in case of a setback. Mugisha Muntu, a member of the East African Legislative Assembly, said: "We are still weak internally. The moment a signature is appended, it is final and it will be difficult to backtrack."
He added: "Now that the EU parliament is lobbying for an extension of EPA talks, the burden is on us to look out for what happens to our people and the future. Otherwise, we shall find ourselves wriggling in a situation we shall not be able to get out from."
On November 27, 2007 the EAC initiated the framework EPA. The framework agreement, which includes trade in goods, fisheries and development clause, is to be replaced by a comprehensive EPA after the conclusion of the EPA negotiations. However, because of the unwillingness of the EU to compromise, a number of issues raised by the EAC countries remain controversial to date.
EAC’s worry is that if unrestrained agreement is reached, it will expose local players in the market to stiff competition from the EU and stunt development of the EAC economies. Among the key controversial issues of concern are exports taxes, which the EAC wants to retain for the purpose of revenue, food security or environmental protection.