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Farmers want region’s interests included in final EAC-EPA deal

By | July 21st 2009 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

By John Oyuke

Kenyan dairy and maize farmers are waiting with bated breath on the outcome of the ongoing East Africa Community (EAC) trade negotiations that will end next week.

And, the debate on how the economic partnership agreement (EPA) will affect the region continues to produce few solutions.

As the meeting draws to a close on July 31, this year draws, farmers maintain anything short of development of sustainable smallholder systems from the meeting, is an abuse and should, therefore, be rejected. "We hope the EAC governments and EPA trade experts will not scuttle our expectations," said Justus Monda, a representative of local farmers.

Delegates at a past EPA conference. EAC farmers fear competition from cheap EU products, threat to regional trade, and inability of African exports to compete in EU markets. Photo:File

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Last week, the East Africa Business Council (EABC) that promotes all aspects of private sector development in the region, said a long list of pending issues will have to be tackled before a final deal emerges from the talks.

Mr Charles Mbogori, the executive director of EABC said the issues include rules of origin, most favoured nations (MFN) clause, agriculture, trade in services and sustainable development.

Under the rules of origin, trade experts say Europe has promised flexible rules that would benefit the region’s textile and apparel exports. Kenya is expected to decide what terms to demand.

In the MFN clause, Europe wants to receive the same bilateral preferences the EAC extends to any country with a more than a percent share of global trade. It will also mean that any future deals with China or India would apply to Europe as well. Experts have described this contention as bad business for East Africa, when its trade with Asia is growing.

Moreover, delegates are haggling over the need for EAC states to harmonise their national agricultural policies before they sign the final deal.

Flawed Process

Mr Monda, who is the Chairman of Rift Valley Agricultural Stakeholders Forum (RVASF), said local farmers are concerned about imbalance in the EPA’s interim framework text and depth of discussions that have been going on.

"We are concerned by the imbalance in the EPA interim framework which favours EU, the flawed and non-inclusive process in the negotiations and shoddy handling of issues of interest to the region," he said. Monda said farmers are keen on Article 20 which accords EU a "special and differential treatment" allowing it continued use of special safeguard (SSG) while EAC states have a general safeguard," he said.

He said the implementation procedures under the general safeguard are complex, time consuming and ineffective.

Monda said the lives of local farmers are miserable because governments implemented trade liberalisation unilaterally since the 1980s. "The outcome saw thousands of industrial workers lose employment largely in the leather, textile and clothing industries," he told FJ last week.

The EU has been negotiating EPA with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries since September 2002, persuading them to replace the current non-reciprocal trade preferences granted under the Cotonou Agreement. But, the EAC farmers are worried about competition from cheap EU products, destruction of regional trade, and persistent inability of African exports to compete in European markets.

Subsidies

Monda wonders how poor smallholder farmers will be expected to compete with farmers from the EU. "This fact seems to elude our trade negotiators considering the heavy agricultural subsidies EU extends to its farmers," he added.

Farmers want the negotiations guided by the prevailing economic and social conditions in the region.


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