By Luke Anami in Brussels
Revelations that Kenyan flowers will be subjected to 16 per cent duty should Kenya fail to ratify Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) by June raises concern about their role in boosting trade on the continent.
Kenya is among the 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries engaged in negotiations with the European Union (EU) that will allow exports preferential access to European markets. Kenya is negotiating for a new deal under the East African Community (EAC) banner.
The EU-EAC negotiations, which stalled in 2007 have dragged since then, with EU preferring to negotiate with individual EAC member countries, a move Kenya is resisting.
Kenya stands to lose heavily if a new EPA deal is sealed because the rest of the EAC partner - Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi - enjoy the Least Developed Country status, earning their goods free access to Europe. Kenya is not listed as an LDC.
"EPAs are key components of the Cotonou Agreement whose purpose is to increase exports of ACP countries to the EU. The agreements are expected to support the agriculture sector and trade, but so far they have not achieved much," said Musikari Kombo, who was last year elected President of the ACP Joint Parliamentary Group for two years.
Kombo said EPAs seem to have renegaded on this noble idea by introducing new conditions that make it difficult for African countries - including Kenya - to benefit as envisaged under the Lome and Cotonou Agreements.
"EU insists that Kenya is not a member of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) like Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, hence she should negotiate the trade deal alone. If you force Kenya to sign because it is not an LDC, the move is going to thwart regional integration."
European countries championed the need for trade relationships when they let free their former colonies. Hence, negotiations that culminated into EPAs begun 40 years ago when the two groups (EU and ACP) came into existence.
EPAs are important as they lay the rules of trade between Europe and mostly former British and French colonies over a long period of time and affect the livelihood of millions of people.
EPAs are intended to reformulate the trade preferences accorded to the ACP countries under the LomÃ©-Cotonou agreements to make them compatible with World Trade Organisation rules as well as more effective in promoting ACP-EU trade and more supportive of African regional integration and broader development goals.