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Time running out for new EU trade deal

New Vision, Kampala

Time Running Out for New EU Trade Deal

Ibrahim Kasita, Kampala

2 July 2007

The trade negotiations between the European Union (EU) and the Eastern and Southern African (ESA) countries may not be concluded by the December 31 deadline.

The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) aim at ensuring that ESA countries including Uganda offer reciprocal market access to their EU trade partners. They are expected to be implemented by January 1, 2008, replacing the Cotonou Agreement that gave ESA nations preferential and non-reciprocal EU market access in 2000.

Uganda exports mainly fish, flowers and agricultural products to the EU, while the EU exports consumer goods to Uganda.

John Ssempebwa, the trade policy director at the Private Sector Foundation, said there were issues that had not been resolved.

"Time is running out. We are left with only six months to finalise the deal. There are key issues that need to be resolved before the implementation. The joint texts on services like tourism have not been signed. We have not achieved anything and we request flexibility from the EU side," he explained.

Ssempebwa said substantial resources were needed to cover preparations, adjustments and implementations.

"Priority be put in supply constraints like transport and energy infrastructure. This requires more time to be integrated," he observed.

"It should not be seen like the EU is imposing on ACP countries but creating an enabling environment to carry business."

However, the EU maintains that such funding is available in the European Development Fund and other financial institutions.

Ugandans fear the agreements would favour the EU goods and services, rendering the local players uncompetitive.

Uganda wants the EPAs to have a clause that gives the country preferential access to the EU for another 10 years.

The new agreements will ensure progressive removal of trade barriers between Uganda and the EU, while improving access to the EU market, according to EU.

Uganda already belongs to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the East African Community.