EAC heads put off EPA signing for three months

HEADS of State of the East African Community (EAC) have delayed the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) for three months pending further consultations over the pact.

The leaders of the block have directed the EAC Secretariat to communicate to EU over the decision that was reached at the 17th Extraordinary Summit held in Dar es Salaam yesterday.

Europe has been pushing for the signing of the free trade pact by the EAC member states on October 1, 2016.

Tanzania exclusively maintained on Wednesday that it would not append its signature on the agreement until the country’s demands that focus on the best interests of the people were met.

Already, Kenya and Rwanda have signed the trade pact. Yesterday, the EPA deal was a subject of discussion by the EAC leaders who took more than six hours to deliberate on whether they should sign as a block or individually.

According to the EAC Chairperson, President John Magufuli, it was not an easy job to reach to the decision and for delaying the signing of the EU pact.

“Our discussions took a lot of time but as usual when we have any sensitive matter, we agree collectively to reach at a collective consensus in the best interest of our people,’’ he said at a press briefing after the closed door meeting.

Dr Magufuli added: “Today, we have shown the world that we are capable of seeking solutions in complex matters.’’ Uganda President Yoweri Museveni said the three-month extension of signing and ratifying the EU-EAC agreement was meant to synchronise their understanding on the pact that has 146 articles.

“The EU should wait until January when we shall convene again so that we give a collective answer than giving fragmented ones,’’ he added.

According to Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto, who represented President Uhuru Kenyatta, the leaders had a candid conversation but fruitful. “Our decision to move together is a decision that is not debatable,’’ he said.

His Rwandan counterpart, President Paul Kagame, underscored the need for unity as the region, saying the postponement of a joint signing by the block was the right decision to strengthen unity.

The economic partnership agreements are intended to enhance regional integration and economic development in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. They are based on the principle of asymmetrical market opening, meaning that they provide a better access to the EU market for ACP partners. They notably offer unprecedented market opportunities for agricultural and fisheries products.

EPAs replace the previous market access regime of unilateral preferences for ACP countries. The EAC Heads of State further asked the EU to refrain from penalising Kenya, directing the secretariat to issue a communication to the Union that had initially stated that if Kenya would not sign the deal by October it was likely to be the biggest casualty.

“The EU should not punish Kenya just because it is two inches taller than other countries in the block,’’ said Mr Museveni in his remarks. Kenya and Rwanda signed the deal in Brussels two weeks ago while Uganda was set to confirm its approval at the extraordinary summit of EAC heads of state. Apart from the EPA issue, the EAC Heads of State yesterday received a detailed report of the facilitator of the Burundi crisis.

The EAC Chairman, Dr Magufuli said the report had indicated every sign that the solution to the Burundi crisis would be obtained.

“I encourage all parties in Burundi to collaborate with the mediator, President Museveni so that peace is restored and enable people to concentrate on development activities.” The summit further appointed Rwandan Christopher Bazivamo as (EAC) Deputy Secretary General for a period of three years.

After his appointment, Mr Bazivamo, one of the country’s representatives in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), took the oath of secrecy and allegiance before resuming his new duties.

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