Kenya: Lobby groups oppose signing of trade agreement with EU

The Nation (Nairobi) | September 27, 2006

Kenya: Lobby Groups Oppose Signing of Trade Agreement With EU

Kaburu Mugambi

Civil societies have asked the Government not to sign any agreement that emerges from current talks with European Union.

The non-governmental organisations accused the EU (European Union) of pursuing its own agenda, which does not match Kenya’s or any other African country’s.

"The EU should give our government space to formulate policy with domestic relevance," EcoNews Africa programme officer, John Ochola, told reporters in Nairobi yesterday.

Current duty-free market access to African, Caribbean and Pacific countries by the EU expires at end of next year. World Trade Organisation has given December 31, 2007 as the deadline for the EU and ACP countries to replace this non-reciprocal duty free market to the EU. ACP countries are required to open up for EU products as well.

Agency for Corporation and Research Development (Acord), EcoNews and Oxfam said the EU must change its negotiating position on free-trade deals with some of the world’s poorest countries, or risk pushing them further into poverty.

They said the EU was yet to put development at the heart of current trade arrangements. Their statement comes a day after Comesa (Common Market for Eastern and South Africa) secretary general, Erastus Mwencha, warned that the talks, referred to as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), would be meaningless as development issues are at their core.

Instead of treating development for east and southern African countries - which are negotiating with it as a bloc - as a major priority, the EU is instead reverting to trade issues in the Cotonou Agreement.

Speaking in Mombasa on Monday ahead of the official start of negotiations between the EU and ESA tomorrow, Mr Mwencha said both parties had addressed the development issue. "It is therefore disappointing that the EC [European Commission] is once again resorting to its ’Development Cluster’ agreements," he said.

The organisations called on the EU to use the formal review of the EPAs process over the next few months to redirect negotiations onto a different path. "For instance the EC ought to drop its ambitions of having reciprocal market access with ACP countries," Mr Ochola said, adding that, instead the EU must focus on further opening its market to ACP exports. Currently, the only agricultural products enjoying duty-free access to the EU are the unprocessed products and the moment there is value addition they attract more duty. "That is why even though coffee fetches high prices in the global market, farmers remain poor," Mr Ochola added.

The organisations said that through the agreements, ACP governments would lose control over key instruments such as tariff policies, competition and investment rules, that all developed countries have used to progress.

To have a fruitful trading partnership between Europe and its ACP partners, you can’t have one side constantly dictacting the rules of the game, Acord manager, Valerie Gnide Traore, said. She said it was unacceptable for the EU to be pushing so hard fro a free-trade deal with Africa when the consequences would be disastrous to development and human rights.

Kenya currently enjoys 98 per cent market access into the EU, without having to open its market for EU products.

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