The East African Community heads of state will this week meet in Kampala with hopes of agreeing on a common position to revitalise the bloc’s trade with Europe, which has been unsettled after some member states refused to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
The EastAfrican has learnt that discussions on the signing of the EPA with the European Union tops the agenda of the Heads of State summit that starts on February 23.
Implementation of the agreement, which gives products from the EAC member states duty-and-quota free access to the European market, has been delayed by more than a year after Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi declined to approve the pact, citing economic and national interests.
At the meeting, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is the current chair of the summit, will brief his counterparts on the outcome of the meeting he held with the European Commission last year on the impact of the EPA on regional economies.
Currently, Europe is East Africa’s largest export destination; in imports, the EU ranks third after China and India.
Other issues to be discussed by the leaders are intra-EAC trade, which is on the decline, non-tariff barriers, the status of Northern Corridor infrastructure projects such as the standard gauge railway, development of a crude oil pipeline and oil refinery, the commodities exchange, and the membership of war-ravaged South Sudan to the EAC.
Also likely to be up for deliberation is the disputed election of the speaker of the fourth East African Legislative Assembly.
“The issue of EPAs will be discussed with a view of bringing everybody on board,” Adan Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Industry, Trade and Co-operative, told The EastAfrican last week.
Negotiations for the EPAs were successfully concluded on October 16, 2014, and all EU member individual states as well as the bloc signed the Agreement.
Though Kenya and Rwanda signed the agreement on September 1, 2016, the pact requires the signatures of all EAC members. Negotiations of the trade deal began in 2002.
The deadline for the EPA signing had originally been set for October 1, 2016, but the Summit, then chaired by Tanzanian President John Magufuli, asked for more time to study the implications on its manufacturers. According to the European Commission, the heads of state of are expected to iron out their differences at the summit and reach a common position on the trade pact.
“The next EAC Summit will discuss the way forward for the EPA,” EAC said in its January report.
Failure by the heads of state to agree on the signing of the agreement could lead to the consideration of a proposal for the EAC Common Market principle of variable geometry. The principle will allow member states to sign the agreement at their own convenience even after the pact takes effect.
Tanzania said it would not sign the agreement claiming that the move is tantamount to killing the growth of its infant industries.