The Standard, Nairobi, Wednesday May 11, 2005
New trade pact won’t replace Comesa
By Benson Kathuri
The proposed East and South Africa economic block will not replace the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).
Comesa Secretary General Erastus Mwencha said though the trading block supported the European Union (EU) funded negotiations to create ESA, individual countries might be forced to sign their own agreements with the world’s largest trading block.
There have been strong fears that ESA would make Comesa irrelevant.
"Comesa can only sign an agreement with the EU if it was a custom union of which it is not at the moment and so individual countries within Comesa will have to sign the trade pact as individuals," Mwencha told a regional meeting in Nairobi yesterday.
Nearly all countries within Comesa region are grouped under the ESA negotiating group, though a few others like Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Seychelles and Mozambique are members of the Southern African Development Co-operation (Sadc).
But Mwencha did not rule out the possibility of Comesa signing a future treaty with the EU as long as the two blocks agreed on several outstanding issues.
The issues include the development assistance identified in the negotiation framework.
The 16 member countries are negotiating for a trade pact that will replace the Cotonou agreement that exists between the EU and the African, Pacific and Caribbean (ACP) countries.
The negotiations have been necessitated after the World Trade Organisation ruled that the Cotonou agreement was one sided after EU failed to demanded for the other party to open up its market for them.
As a result, the WTO has given the ACP counties until December 2007 to negotiate for a reciprocal trade arrangement that could not be challenged by other WTO members.
Under the proposed arrangement, the African countries will be required to open their markets to goods and services from the EU.
A section of trade associations, including the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, have already opposed the move, claiming more technologically advanced EU manufacturers will lock them out of the lucrative Comesa market.
Comesa is the biggest market for locally manufactured goods, while the EU remains the largest market for agricultural produce, especially flowers.
In 2003, Kenya’s exports to the Comesa market accounted for 46.2 per cent, compared with 28.5 per cent to the EU.
"While criticism and even scepticism are important as factual or even as moral guides to whatever we do, it is vital that were remain focussed in our quest to develop our economies," said Mwencha.
"We would like to improve our relations with the EU and by extension, with all other global economic partners in order to change the sad status of our region and indeed the continent which remains at the bottom of he global development ladder," he said.
Even as other countries struggle to jump-start trade talks, Kenya has decided to push for the trade pact mainly because it is stands to lose most as it already commands 25 per cent of EU’s fresh flower market.
"Though EU remains a major trading partner, we should now explore the South-South trade within ourselves because we make a huge market," said Trade and Industry Assistant Minister Zaddock Syongo.
The meeting was attended by trade representatives from Kenya, Uganda, DRC Congo, Mauritius, Seychelles, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Zambia and Malawi.