The five East African Community member states are set to resume negotiations with the European Union over the controversial Economic Partnership Agreements.
The negotiations, which have been dragging on since 2007, resume early next month in Zanzibar as civil society groups warn member states not to unilaterally open up the region’s markets to cheap EU goods.
Economic Partnership Agreements are a scheme to create a free trade area (FTA) between the European Commission and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.
Civil society groups led by the Southern and Eastern African Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) say the agreement is likely to affect trade in East Africa if member states fully open up their markets to EU goods.
Samuel Kasirye, a Program Officer with SEATINI- Uganda says the East African negotiators should not rush into the deal until contentious issues are resolved.
One of the issues of concern, according to Kasirye, relates to the export of unprocessed goods to the EU, which is likely to hurt local industries and lead to loss of jobs.
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Kasirye says East Africa will lose out in trade opportunities if it agrees to article 15 of the Partnership Framework paper, where EU is asking EAC states to accord it same treatment when trading with none EU states.
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This clause would limit East Africa’s capacity to trade with other emerging economies like India and China, whose trade portfolio in East Africa is increasing.
The other concern is that East Africa will lose export taxes that protect domestic industries against highly competitive and cheap European goods.
Robert Ridolfi, the Head of European Union delegation in Uganda has in the past dismissed criticism by civil society. He argues the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreements are part of its contribution to trade and development. He says the motive is to help integrate the region into a global economy.
The East African Legislative Assembly blocked the signing of the final partnership Framework citing the same fears raised by the civil society.