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EU Wants EAC Countries To Sign Delayed EPA

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The European Union (EU) is requesting that the five member countries of the East African Community (EAC) formalize their trade relations by signing the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which was originally initialled in 2007.

At the end of 2007, after years of difficult negotiations, the EU finally agreed to bring into effect a set of regional EPAs with African, Caribbean and Pacific Group countries, giving them free access to the member states of the EU for their exports of goods in return for opening their own markets to the EU after transition periods of up to 25 years.

The countries within the EAC Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda initialled their regional EPA in order to obtain those preferential tariffs and, after further negotiations, it was due to be formally signed by July 31, 2009. Although the EAC now operates a fully-fledged customs union, and will have a common market from July 1 this year, it has never signed the EPA, and the agreement is therefore not legally effective.

It had been reported that the further delay in the signing of the EPA by the EAC is due to the introduction into the agreement of non-trade issues, such as sustainable development, by the EU. However, the head of the EU delegation in Tanzania, Timothy Clarke, has now said that the current situation with regard to the EPA has gone on for too long and cannot be sustained. He called on the EAC trade ministers to correct matters as soon as possible.

The EU have previously said that non-completion of the EPA would put countries that are not classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), such as Kenya, on the much less favourable Generalized System of Preferences tariff rates. The other EAC countries, as LDCs, would continue to have free access to EU markets under the Everything But Arms initiative.