Kenya hopes to marshal support for its ambitious plan to trade with Europe during the East African Community heads of state scheduled for February 1, in Arusha, after efforts to get its partners to sign and ratify the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union bore little fruit.
The EPA, whose signing and ratification has stalled since October 2016, allows duty-free, quota-free access of EAC products to the European market.
Kenya, the region’s biggest exporter to the European market, has been allowed temporary access to the European market under special arrangements after Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi failed to sign and ratify the agreement citing various country-specific concerns.
The pact requires all EAC countries to sign and ratify for it to take effect, but only Kenya has signed and ratified while Rwanda has signed but not ratified.
As a result, Kenya is asking that EAC partner states adopt the variable geometry, a move that would be viewed as counter to regional integration.
The Principle of Variable Geometry allows member countries to enforce the trade agreement with the EU as individuals rather than a bloc, implying that Kenyan products will start accessing the EU market under EPA.
The EU has asked the EAC partner states to iron out their differences and agree on the way forward on the trade agreement.
“The next EAC Summit in 2019 is expected to discuss the EPA issue and the way forward,” the EU said in its latest EPA update report dated November 2018.
The EastAfrican has learnt that Kenya is planning to table a proposal before the EAC Council of Ministers on January 30, seeking to be allowed to enforce its own trade agreement with the EU as other partner states sort out their own issues.
If Kenya’s proposal on variable geometry is adopted by the ministers, it will be forwarded to the heads of state for review and final decision.
Kenya's Principal Secretary in the Department of Trade Dr Chris Kiptoo confirmed to this paper that the country has settled for the principle of variable geometry but the proposal has to get the backing of all the EAC member states.
“We have already signed and ratified this agreement. We don’t have any problem. If the other countries have issues then I think the principle of variable geometry should apply so that those who are ready can sign and proceed but the proposal has to be endorsed by all member countries,” said Mr Kiptoo.
The EastAfrican has learnt that some of the regional partners are of the view that such a move will compromise the principle of solidarity that binds EAC member states together.
It is understood that Uganda, which has expressed interest to sign the agreement, is keen on the principle of solidarity, which requires all countries to sign and act as one.
It is also feared that signing the pact as individual countries would weaken the region’s rules of origin principle and give rise to partner states operating on different trading regimes, compromising efforts towards regional integration.
EAC’s commitment to the EPA has however come into sharp focus after it emerged that Kenya has won a timeless access to the EU market under the Market Access Regulations.
On the other hand, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania, which are considered least developed countries, continue having duty-free and quota-free access to the EU under the Everything but Arms arrangement.