New Times, Rwanda
Mukaruliza Warns Against Rushed EPAs
By Eric Kabeera,
11 May 2012
Regional countries should not rush to seal the EAC-EU trade deals, known as the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), a cabinet minister has said.
Monique Mukaruliza, the Minister for East African Community (EAC) Affairs, said the EU needs to first accommodate the demands from the African bloc before the agreements are signed.
"We need to first examine appropriately all the details concerning the agreements, and avoid rushing into agreeing a deal that does not benefit us," the minister told The New Times.
The EAC states and the European Union are negotiating the framework that will govern future trading activities between the two.
In November, 2007 the EAC partner states (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) agreed on a region-to-region interim EPA with the EU, instead of country-to-country basis.
However, a number of issues raised by the EAC countries remain unresolved.
Among the sticking issues is EU’s insistence that EAC should not enter other trade/economic deals with any other community, without its consent, after the finalisation of the negotiations.
EAC is also concerned that an unconstrained agreement could expose the local industry to stiff competition from European firms, which would stunt private sector development in EAC.
Also controversial are import taxes, which the EAC wants to retain for the purpose of revenue generation and or environmental protection.
Observers say that successful outcome of the EPA negotiations would consolidate the EAC regional integration and promote the competitiveness of EAC products.
A joint statement released at the end of a two-day EAC/EU Parliamentary conference in Arusha, Tanzania, recently noted that the European Commission, which is the negotiating arm of the EU, was trying to influence the talks through deadlines and threats.
However, Mukaruliza warned that the region risked losing the intended objective if it rushed into signing the deal.
"There is no need of rushing for the negotiations, we know what we need," she said.
The minister, however, mentioned that the agreements, if concluded, would be a big achievement for the region, adding that EAC needed more economic agreements to develop and expand its economic base.
If the agreements are reached, the two blocs will have access to both markets and traders will be free to carry out business activities without trade barriers.
In last week’s EAC-EPA meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, Kenyan MP Musikari Kombo was quoted saying, "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."
"The European Commission (EC) has identified their interests. If we go for negotiations and we don’t know our interests, then they will ride over us."
EAC is also currently considering or deepening trade arrangements with other communities including the US, China, Turkey, and the tripartite of EAC, COMESA and SADC for the establishment of a single Free Trade Area (FTA) covering the 26 countries.