The European Union is likely to continue pushing the East African Community on the free trade agreements, the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), on which the five regional member countries maintained protracted differences.
The Head of European Union Delegation to Uganda Attilio Pacifici speaking Wednesday night at the Europe Day celebrations said, “we note that there is no progress on the EPA despite of the several meetings held—including at Presidential level—and the clarifications subsequently provided by the European Commission.”
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 EU.
Ambassador Pacifici added: “we understand that this is a long process and we wait to hear the region’s decision.”
The EU top envoy’s comments follow a number of inter-country fruitless meetings, including one called by President Museveni early this year, to bring discussions to a logical conclusion.
President Museveni in his capacity as chairman of the East African Community, and who four months earlier had led a delegation of regional Trade ministers to the EU headquarters in Brussels to thrash out the issues of concern, late in January convened a meeting which flopped after Kenya and Rwanda which have so far signed accused him of conflict of interest—because Uganda, as is Tanzania, is yet to sign EPA.
Kenya and Rwanda acceded to the EPA in 2015 while Uganda and Tanzania are jittery about some of the clauses, particularly about the potential impact of opening up its market to EU products to its fledgling industries. Burundi is unable to sign because of the EU sanctions.
The agreement has to be signed and ratified by all EAC member states for it to become operational.
During the Brussels meeting President Museveni and the regional trade ministers were advised to go back to the drawing board.
Weighing on the EPA on Tuesday at a public dialogue on “prospects of EAC trade with post Brexit Europe” organised by the Uganda Council of Foreign Relations, UK based Ugandan-Canadian trade policy expert Nankunda Katangaza asked “if they (EPA) are being tossed left and right, why isn’t everyone stopping to ask whether they are exactly what EAC wants?”
Ms Katangaza said the East Africa Community needs to prioritise, first trading with the region itself, and more with the African continent. She said prospects of the region attaining certain levels of economic growth and economic development lie within intra-Africa trade.
Forty four African countries in March this year signed the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), which is likely to increase intra-African trade by 52.3 percent according to the UN Economic Commission on Africa.
Uganda is among signatories of the CFTA. However, its effect remains to be seen especially with some countries like — Nigeria and South Africa, the continent’s biggest economies did not sign the framework, alongside Namibia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eritrea, Zambia, Burundi, Benin and Guinea Bissau.