The East African Community (EAC’s) solidarity came into question on Monday during the Council of Ministers meeting, when member states were accused for prioritising national interests ahead of regional integration.
This was in connection to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) that the economic bloc was expected to sign, which some countries have now opposed.
On the one hand, Rwanda and Kenya were criticised for breaching a proposal made earlier in May, requesting EAC partner states to sign the EPA on the same date in order to project the region as a functional Customs Union.
On the other hand, Tanzania and Burundi were slammed for declining to sign the deal after they had been informed that delays in its signing will potentially hamper the bloc’s exports to the EU.
Tanzania and Burundi were also criticised for being indifferent to Kenya’s, after it had been pointed out that the country would suffer more than others EAC states if the EPA is not signed urgently.
“Kenya and Rwanda signed the EPA on September 1… It would have been desirable for the partner states to sign the EPA together,” Mr Kirunda Kivejinja, Uganda’s deputy prime minister and minister for EAC Affairs told the Council.
Mr Kivejinja confirmed that Uganda would sign the EPA at “an appropriate time soon” but that the country needs more details on the circumstances with a view to informing discussions at a higher level.
Both Kenya and Rwanda defended their decisions to sign the EPA as a “logical and natural course of action” since the commitment to do so was made in 2014 after conclusion of negotiations with EU.
“What is at stake is not the substance of the agreement but the process of signing the agreement,” Ms Valentine Rugwabiza, Rwanda’s minister of EAC Affairs said.
“The issue of solidarity is important for the bloc, and since the negotiations were completed, the next logical step was to sign the agreement.”
She was supported by Kenya, which reiterated that when the EAC missed the deadline to sign the EPA in October 2014, the country suffered major losses due to the high tariffs imposed on her exports to the EU – a situation that the country hoped would not occur again.
“After we missed the deadline, Kenya was removed from the EU Market Access Regulation, and was later reinstated in December 2014. During this period, our exports to Europe suffered a great deal,” Ms Phyllis Kandie, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for EAC Affairs, said.
“Kenya therefore took a decision to sign with a view to petitioning the EU against its removal of current deal for Kenyan exports to the EU, and to demonstrate our commitment to ratify the deal alongside Rwanda pending signing by the other partner states.”
Tanzania however appears to be softening its strong stance against the EPA, saying it needs to conduct an in-depth analysis first.
“Tanzania’s decision not to sign the EPA has been a very difficult decision considering the amount of time and costs involved in the process over the last 14 years. However, we are convinced that it is important that we undertake an in-depth analysis in our national interest,” Charles J. Tizeba, Tanzania’s Minister Ministry of Agriculture, said.
“The bloc needs to appeal to the EU to push the deadline so that partner states do not lose out as a result of Tanzania not signing the agreement. Therefore, with the principles of national sovereignty, Tanzania is not able to sign the EPA at this moment in time.”
Burundi so far offers the greatest hurdle ahead of ratifying the EPA, after the country said that the current deal does not take into account her economic interests.
“Burundi expresses solidarity with partner states, but not at the expense of the lives of Burundians,” Mr Alain Nyamitwe, Burundi’s Minister of External Relations, said.
“Burundi’s economy is not capable of taking on the obligations enshrined in the agreement until her economy is strong enough. Burundi has always been in solidarity with Kenya, but we have national issues that we need to resolve prior to engaging in the signing of the EPA.”
Citing these indifferences from member states, the Council directed the EAC Secretariat to prepare an analytical paper on the implications of not signing the EPA, which will be presented at the EAC heads of state summit in Dar es Salaam on Thursday.