Leaders of the East African Community (EAC) have postponed the signing of economic partnership agreements with the EU to December. Kenya and Rwanda fear they may lose access to European markets.
East African heads of state met in the commercial capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, on Thursday, September 8, to discuss the ratification of the European Partnership Agreement (EPA). Tanzanian president John Magufuli (pictured above), who is also chair of the bloc, demanded more time to assess the impact of the agreements before the actual signing takes place.
The day-long meeting concentrated on Tanzania's reluctance in signing the trade deal with the EU. The "Daily News" of Tanzania has quoted Magufuli as saying: "There are a number of questions to be looked upon, why are we signing the agreement while the EU has imposed sanctions on Burundi? Why are we signing while UK has pulled out of the EU?"
According to Prosper Ngowi, an economics lecturer at Mzumbe University in Tanzania, the country needs investment in areas of roads, water and power for it to compete in European markets.
"I think, what Tanzania has done means that it wants to assess the situation so that it does not lose out once it joins," he said.
Kenya would pay more taxes
Out of the six EAC countries, Kenya stands to lose the most if the deal is not signed. Other member states, like Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, would still be eligible for duty and quota-free access under EU's Everything But Arms initiative for the world's "Least Developed Countries". Kenya does not fall under this category.
"If the EPA is not signed and ratified by all EAC partner states by September 30, 2016, Kenya stands to lose its market to the EU, having significant impact on her economy," Kenya's Trade and Industrialisation Ministry wrote in a statement last week.
Tanzania has exclusively maintained that it will not append its signature on the agreement "until the country's demands that focus on the best interests of the people are met."
Clarity needed in the EPAs
Tanzania's Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Augustine Mahiga told local media outlets that Dodoma would not sign the EPA agreement until crucial amendments are included in the deal.
Mahiga said, Tanzania wants to ensure that the country focuses on its industries and that the EU first needs to shed light on what will happen after Britain leaves regional bloc.
He said the EU was pushing for the EAC member states to sign the agreement that was drafted 14 years ago. Kenya and Rwanda have already signed the agreement and Uganda had expressed its intention to sign it after Thursday´s meeting. Mahiga, however, said that the signing by Kenya and Rwanda meant nothing as it was supposed to be signed jointly as a block.
The agreement was expected to be signed by EAC member states as a bloc in July, this year, but it was pushed until October 1, after requests from the member countries. EAC member states initially signed an interim EPA deal in 2007 and another in 2014. The governments were then given two years to ratify the deal in their national parliaments.