Tuesday, 01 September 2009

East Africa: Trading "free" as Europe deal lapses

The East African Community is trading “free” with the EU — without a binding agreement — following the expiry of an interim arrangement and the failure by teams negotiating from both parties to settle on a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. The interim arrangement entered into last November was to forestall interruption of trade after the Cotonou Agreement was outlawed by the World Trade Oganisation when it came to an end in December 2007. In the year and a half since then, the EU and the East African Community, together with other African, Caribbean and Pacific trade blocs, have failed to agree on the way forward, with the July 31 deadline by which an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) was to have been in place, having come and gone. Kenya’s Trade Minister Amos Kimunya said the EAC wants to sign the EPA “as soon as we can,” but indicated that this was not likely. Mr Kimunya explained that while the EAC is ready, the EU has its own issues at the moment such as the new European Commission, which is taking office in November, as well as a new European Parliament. Though exporters from Kenya are growing jittery over the failure of the talks, Mr Kimunya said there was no need to panic because the parties were still negotiating and no change was likely until a conclusion would be reached. Among the contentious issues is the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause over which both parties have failed to arrive at a middle ground.