Nairobi: The East African Community has resolved to negotiate for a new trade regime with the EU as a bloc. EAC negotiators, who met in Arusha last week to plan ahead of the final round of Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs) talks next month, said they would conclude the negotiations as a unified region.
There had been proposals that Kenya should go it alone in signing the EPAs so that it can retain its preferences in flowers and fish. This option had been seen as devastating for the EAC Customs Union because Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda could refuse to open up their markets to Kenya in order to avoid EU goods flooding their markets.
The EU represents 31 per cent of Kenya’s export market especially, for cut flowers, tea, vegetables and coffee.
“Negotiators have resolved to lobby for Kenya to be treated as a Least Developed Country (LDC) for the purposes of EPAs in a bid to keep the spirit of integration alive,” EAC spokesperson, Mr Richard Owora said.
Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda are classified as LDCs, which are allowed to sell goods in the EU duty and quota free without reciprocating.
The EAC Customs Union Management Act provides that partner states have to enter into such agreements as a bloc.
But, if Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi under LDC cluster, sign EPAs, they will be compelled to reciprocate their current duty-free access to the EU market by eliminating tariffs on at least 80 per cent of products from the EU.
The negotiators agreed that the EAC and African Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) Secretariats forge a united front to lobby and keep negotiations as a bloc of LDCs including Kenya.
The negotiators also agreed that; the Most Favoured Nation Clause should not be accepted and trade in services should not be negotiated under the EPAs.
However, provisions for capacity building of the EAC Services sector should be included in the economic and development cooperation chapter.
“Export taxes need to be removed from the EPAs to be in line with WTO rules” reads a statement issued by the EAC secretariat, adding that the proposed standards governing environment, good governance and social accountability under the EPA should not be introduced without comprehensive consultations.
The EU is the single largest market for EAC exports, absorbing 23.4 per cent of its exports in 2010 compared to 33.6 per cent exports to the rest of the world.