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COMESA-EU pact to open up more markets

Kenya Times

COMESA-EU pact to open up more markets

By Mark Oloo

5 September 2006

The Common Market for East and Central African (COMESA) states have begun fresh negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) in a bid to expand domestic markets through strategic trade liberalisation.

Through the agreement, the countries hope to significantly hasten ongoing plans to implement a customs union.

COMESA Secretary General Erastus Mwencha said the principal aim of the pact would be to enable member countries address issues of competitiveness and enhanced reach to external markets.

Mwencha however said the EPA and EU pact did not mean that member states would exclusively open up their markets.

“Trading activities between us and the European Union is worth over 23 billion Euros and we would really wish to use such agreements as a road map to sustained economic relationships,” he said.

In a key note address delivered during the opening of a high level COMESA customs union talks in Nairobi yesterday, Mwencha noted that member were countries were keen on the EPA, saying the blue print would come with a host of economic benefits.

He said once ratified, the EPA will provide a safeguard to COMESA products that currently enjoy preference in Europe.

Kenya, he said, will next month host a special meeting to discuss the proposed EPA.

The official said COMESA members had consented to the launch of a customs union by December 2008 and that preliminaries ahead of the plan are in good progress.

“We are actually almost there, especially having resolved most of the issues that stood between us,” he reiterated.

He said members were in the process of deliberating on the recommended tariff bands for the common external tariff in respect of all goods imported into member states.

The COMESA boss said member countries would also reach a consensus on the proposed regional trade policy and the policy space to be accorded individual member states within the customs union.

“We have long since come to agreement on the rates for raw materials and capital goods, both with target rates of 0 per cent, with the remaining work focusing on intermediate and final goods,” he noted. COMESA secretariat, he indicated, was holding talks with various regional economic blocks such as the East African Community (EAC) and SADC to concretise efforts of harmonising certain programmes to scale up poverty eradication.

He revealed that COMESA, SADC and EAC were in the process of establishing a joint air transport regulation board on the basis of joint competition regulations adopted by the three regional economic blocks.

Trade and industry Minister Mukhisa Kituyi urged COMESA member states to come up with agreements over the common external tariff so as to have a common position in the negotiations with the EU.