By Benson Kathuri
Professionals trading in services within East Africa should seek export opportunities in the European Union (EU) before trade negotiations are closed in July, the East African Business Council has said (EABC).
EABC Executive Director Charles Mbogori said the professionals should also lead trade in services negotiations with the EU under the ongoing Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) negotiations.
"Trade in services is a dynamic area of international trade, offering significant opportunities, both in terms of increased exports and imports," said Mbogori at a workshop on trade in services held in Nairobi, yesterday.
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He said such opportunities would boost competitiveness, stimulate economic development and reduce poverty in the region.
He, however, said reforms and negotiations would remain contentious as involved parties had vested interests they would like to protect. "These negotiations would remain understandably contentious due to their potential to expose vulnerable stakeholders, including private sector operators, to a variety of risks," he said.
Trade Minister Amos Kimunya, in a statement read on his behalf by Assistant Minister Omingo Magara, asked governments in the region to develop proper regulatory frameworks before opening the services sector to competition from the EU.
He said such frameworks should include consumer protection, functioning financial markets, traffic safety, competitive communication services and universal access to health and education.
"Our governments and negotiators must ensure there is adequate domestic regulation to protect domestic markets before undertaking liberalisation of the services sector," he said.
The EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are negotiating a trade agreement that is acceptable to all World Trade Organisation members.
Under the former trade regime, all ACP countries had preferential market access to EU where most products entered the market duty and quota free.
However, WTO rules now require ACP countries to give similar treatment to goods and services from the EU hence the need for a new trade regime. EAC member states of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are negotiating EPAs as a group.