Wanted: A stable but fair EU deal

The East African, Kenya

Wanted: A stable but fair EU deal

24 August 2009

The failure by the European Union on the one hand and African, Caribbean and Pacific nations on the other to conclude their Economic Partnership Agreements by July 31 this year, the agreed deadline, does not augur well for trade between the two sides.

The main bone of contention remains just how wide ACP countries should open their doors to European competition in areas such as government procurement and trade in services. There are also disagreements in sectors such as the environment and intellectual property rights.

Civil society organisations are on record criticising the EPAs, saying they will disadvantage poor countries and give undue leverage to European companies. Both sides need to take this criticism seriously.

Negotiators from both sides must also continue to work with speed to resolve all outstanding issues. Business and trade can only thrive in an environment that is stable and predictable, which the current deadlock does not engender.

In the EAC, the failure to conclude the EPA could be particularly bad for Kenya, whose key exports to Europe such as flowers and vegetables now risk losing the concessionary terms under which they enter the EU.

That the local business community has started expressing disquiet on the matter shows the gravity of the situation.

Going forward, the EU must acknowledge the legitimate fears and concerns of its poorer partners.

Expecting ACP nations to open their doors to subsidised goods and services, while imposing ever stricter non-tariff barriers such as phytosanitary standards, will only breed more mistrust.

For the EAC, the lessons in the EPA deadlock transcend the issue of trade with Europe. They include the need to develop alternative markets for the region, as well as promoting intra-regional trade.

The EAC must also quickly learn to negotiate international agreements such as the EPA as one entity. Allowing each country to articulate its peculiar interests creates room for division that could be exploited by the opposite side.

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