Museveni mediation fails to bridge Economic Partnership Agreement differences

President Yoweri Museveni in a meeting with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker where he presented concerns raised by East African Community member states on the Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU in Brussels, Belgium, 28 September 2017. Credit: State House Uganda (Twitter).

A recent attempt by Uganda’s President Museveni to diffuse the differences between Kenya and Tanzania over a region-to-region Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union were fruitless, this website understands. Mr Museveni is the current chair of the East African Community.

The EPA is a trade and development cooperation agreement negotiated between the East African Community and the EU. It authorises duty-free quota-free access to the EU market for all EAC exports, and also the partial and gradual opening of the EAC market to imports from

Negotiations for the agreement were finalised in October 2014, with Kenya and Rwanda acceding to it in 2015. Other EAC member states are yet to sign the agreement, with Tanzania the most vocal dissenter. Burundi is doubtful about the merits of the agreement and has expressed solidarity with Tanzania, while Uganda says it will not sign until everyone is on board.

The agreement has to be signed and ratified by all EAC member states for it to become operational. Tanzania, whose Parliament recently voted against the deal, continues to pour cold water on the deal and is particularly concerned about the potential impact of opening up its market to EU products to its fledgeling industries.

Sources told this website that last week, Mr Museveni convened a private meeting at State House, Entebbe, attended by senior officials from Kenya and Tanzania to try and harmonise their positions. The two sides refused to budge.

In light of the ensuing disagreements, the president was “forced to end the meeting without a common ground reached.”

Kenya has expressed concern that Uganda, the purported arbiter, has still refused to sign the agreement. President Museveni has previously said that the region needs to discuss each clause and reaching a common agreement before acceding to the deal.

Last year, Kenya’s former minister for trade, Adan Mohamed, said the issues raised by Kampala and Dar-es-Salaam—that the deal is a threat to homegrown industries—were taken care of.

Mr Adan told Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper the EAC blocked 17.5% of EU goods from entering the region duty-free so as to protect local industries.

“The two nations are being insincere because the terms of the agreement stop agricultural produce and dairy products from accessing our market duty-free. This is the only industry that would be affected if the EU had free access,” Mr Mohamed said.

Kenya will be the biggest loser should the deal eventually collapse. Unlike Uganda and Tanzania, it is classified as a lower middle-income country and would, therefore, have its exports – flowers, particularly – to the EU subjected to a 25% tariff. Uganda and Tanzania, on the other hand, will still enjoy duty-free and quota-free access to the EU for most of their goods under the Everything but Arms arrangement.

Last September, president Museveni led a delegation of trade ministers from the five countries to discuss the matter with officials in Brussels, who told the bloc to harmonise their differences. The EU, on the other hand, promised to review all issues raised by the EAC and offer a comprehensive response.