EAC chief optimistic on EPA negotiations
The Secretary General of the East African Community, Dr. Richard Sezibera, is optimistic that the EAC and the European Union will agree a deal on the Economic Partnership Agreements before the end of this year.
Meeting with officials of the EU, COAFR Africa Working Group at the European Commission this week in Brussels, Sezibera reaffirmed his faith in the EPAs as significant for the region.
“I strongly support and welcome the EPAs, because it is the first time that we are negotiating terms of trade with Europe,” Sezibera said, noting that the arrangement was better than trade terms that were unilaterally determined.
“We have come a long way,” he remarked, noting that several key issues had been agreed upon and the region was on the brink of signing an EPA that will promote development while deepening integration.
“I think we can conclude negotiations this year and I look forward to concluding negotiations this year,” he said, adding the region had the political commitment to realise this goal.
He spoke out against attempts to frustrate EAC engaging in EPA talks as a bloc, insisting that the region would negotiate as one entity.
If the agreements are reached, the two blocs will have access to both markets and traders will be free to carry out business activities without trade barriers. It means the region will benefit economically since more regional products will freely access the market.
One of the barriers hindering the region is insufficient markets for local products creating space for imported ones.
However, there are outstanding issues that have been slowing the negotiations, and among the sticking issues is EU’s insistence that EAC should not enter other trade/economic deals with any other community without its consent, after the finalisation of the negotiations.
EAC was also concerned that an unconstrained agreement could expose the local industry to stiff competition from European firms, which would stunt private sector development in EAC.
Recently, EAC Minister, Monique Mukaruliza, warned against rushing for the negotiations, saying there was need to first understand all the intricacies involved to avoid negative impacts.
“We need to first examine all the details concerning the agreements and avoid rushing into agreeing a deal that does not benefit us,” the minister told The Sunday Times.
In a one-hour interaction with the group responsible for monitoring and analyzing developments in sub-Saharan Africa, the EAC chief discussed various aspects of the integration process, including the Customs Union, Common Market, infrastructure development, funding of the Community and the EAC’s future prospects.
EAC is also currently considering or deepening trade arrangements with other communities, including the US, China, Turkey, and the tripartite of EAC, COMESA and SADC, for the establishment of a single Free Trade Area (FTA) covering 26 countries.
By Eric Kabeera, The New Times
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