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Top EU officials arrive in Mombasa to salvage trade talks

Kenya Times | 27 September 2006

Top EU officials arrive in Mombasa to salvage trade talks


Two key European Unions heads of trade and development yesterday jetted into Mombasa to thwart a bid by Eastern and Southern Africa ( ESA) countries to scatter the ongoing negotiations between the two trading blocs.

Peter Thompson, Director General (trade) and Roger Moore, Director General in charge of development based in Brussels arrived at the coastal town of Kenya yesterday morning to convince ESA states to continue with the rocky talks which faced many hurdles yesterday.

During the meeting held at a Mombasa hotel, 16 ESA member countries rejected wholly recommendations made on an ESA draft paper by experts. Insisted, it insisted that EU should accept the draft in without making any recommendations.

A Senior Kenyan trade official at the talks confided to the media that ESA states may seek political interventions to avoid the collapse of the talks.

“We may say, let the presidents step in since EU trade experts are becoming unreasonable,” said the official.

Another team of EU trade experts from the Nairobi office led by Harvey Rouse, were yesterday involved in frantic efforts to work out a joint approach to the talks when they meet the ESA team this morning.

Thompson and Moore are expected to face a barrage of hurdles as they attempt to convince ESA delegates why EU is insisting on EPA for trade.

African states have also protested that the new EPA may not address the supply side constraints, which make their products in the EU market less competitive.

On Monday, COMESA Secretary General Erastus Mwencha warned EU that ESA states may abandon the talks if development issues are ignored.

COMESA boss said the new trade regime, which comes into effect in January 2008, would be meaningless without a clear path of development for African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries.

It had been reported earlier that chances of getting a trade agreement between East and South African (ESA) countries and European Commission (EC) before the expiry of the existing one were waning following new demands placed by both sides.

The current trade pact between the duo-ESA and EC- commonly referred to as Cotonou Agreement is expected to expire on December next year.

Events took new twist last week during a meeting of ESA members in Mombasa with some accusing EC of trying to compromise some states in order to relent on their collective demands.

The contentions emerged when ESA ambassadors accuse EU of breaking diplomatic channels in the negotiation.

According to ESA chairman, Brian Bowler, the decision of EC commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, Louis Michel to invite selected heads of state to Brussels for trade talks without their consent.

Bowler stated that if the EU commissioner would be leaving them in the dark when inviting the political class over the negotiation then they were losing their relevancy. He said Michel had breached the diplomatic protocol that required him to inform ESA delegation and country ambassadors before informing the presidents on the said letter.

Said he “AS each country trade negotiators, we are supposed to inform our presidents on the ongoings and equip them, in order that whenever they go to such meetings, they would be aware of what to say. What EC is trying to do is to compromise our demands.”

The ESA ambassadors had complained that Michel had adopted such method citing the last ministerial meeting that he had again called without their knowledge.

The ambassadors and other East and Southern Africa trade blocs representatives are on Mombasa to discuss the response by EC on the demands that it had placed before the signing of the new agreement called Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

ESA, which comprises of 16 countries demands that EC, should address the concerns of development finance and stop only to interested with demand.

It accused EC of maintaining that EPA should be primarily a trade component of the Cotonou Agreement and leave out the supply financing claiming it was articulated in other agreement.

According to COMESA secretary general Erastus Mwencha, who was present, EC stand is that development finance was addressed in the Economic Development Funds framework was not acceptable ESA.

“The negotiation meeting between EC and us in Mauritius in July 2006 had addressed this matter, and we understand that we had reached a common understanding. It is therefore disappointing that the EC is once again resorting to its ‘development clause’ argument,” he said adding that this will relegate development dimension to the programming process under the EDF.”

He further added that the latter would determine their position on all other areas of negotiations.

Among the demands placed by the Africa nations are insisting that access to the EU markets should increased, by simplification of current rules of origin and full duty free and quota free access for all products from ESA.

Present also was the African Union commissioner on trade and industry Elisabeth Tankeu among others.

 source: Kenya Times