State clears the air on EPA controversy

By Luke Anami

Kenya has moved to allay fears over reports in international media that it is among seven African countries blacklisted by the European Union for failing to sign Economic Partnership Agreements.

The seven, Botswana, Namibia, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Swaziland, along with the Pacific nation of Fiji, risk falling into a stricter commercial regime if they fail to sign the pacts.

Other countries that have yet to sign the EPAs — including Haiti, Burundi and Rwanda — will be exempt from censure due to their status as least developed countries.

Trade Permanent Secretary Abdularazaq Ali, however, said negotiations were on course and assured Kenyan traders and the EU that the next meeting on EPAs will be held in Brussels in May.

“We envisage the country resolving most of the controversial clauses in our next meeting. We have not reached the deadline of January 2014, therefore, we cannot talk of being blacklisted,” Ali said in an interview with Business Beat.

“We made substantial progress on a number of issues at out last meeting in Mombasa from 4-8 February. There isn’t much remaining.”

Negotiated

The PS was reacting to a report in UK newspaper Guardian last week, where horticulture exporters were quoted saying the blacklisting was “regrettable”.

EPAs are trade deals being negotiated between the European Union’s 27 countries and 76 developing countries, mostly former British and French colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, otherwise referred to as ACP.

The deals are important, as they lay down the rules of trade between Europe and ACP countries over a long period of time and affect millions of people.

Ali added that the Mombasa meeting, which brought together experts from the EU and Kenya, finalised many issues, including those regarding development.

“The next round of negotiations is expected to allow substantial progress on all outstanding issues, paving the way for conclusion on the EPAs. Only if we fail to meet the deadline can anyone talk of blacklisting,” he said.

Kenya, as part of the East African Community, trades with the EU under Interim EPAs, but these have expired.

Contentious clauses

The contentious clauses that have delayed the current negotiations for more comprehensive EPAs are under provisions for good governance and tax, trade, environment and sustainable development, and obligations/consequences from Customs Union Agreements with the EU.

“We cannot begin discussing issues of tax, for example, and tie them to good governance,” Ali said. “There are about 16 items we are expected to negotiate and finalise, and I can assure you most of them have been covered.”

The negotiations are now focusing on development co-operation, agriculture and rules of origin, the PS added.

“On economic cooperation and development, it is almost complete at 80 per cent of the issues agreed. Agriculture is at 90 per cent, rules of origin at 90 per cent and outstanding market access issues at over 90 per cent agreed,” he said.

The EPAs negotiations were necessitated by the fact that the non-reciprocal trade preferences granted to ACP countries under the Lome Convention, and in the interim period under the Cotonou Agreement, were contravening a fundamental principle of the World Trade Organization (WTO) — the “enabling clause”.

Preferential treatment

The clause allows industrial countries to give unilateral non-reciprocal preferential treatment to either all WTO least developed countries (LDCs) or, all developing country members, but not the two categories of countries in the same region.

Since the ACP region has countries from both categories, the non-reciprocal Lome preferences contravene current WTO rules.

The EAC member states of Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are LDCs.  Kenya is not, so it cannot enjoy the preferential treatment accorded to LDCs, hence the EPAs negotiations.

We are undertaking a survey to help us improve our content for you. This will only take 1 minute of your time, please give us your feedback by clicking HERE. All responses will be confidential.

Economic Partnership Agreements European Union