PRIVATE and public sector representatives involved in Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations will meet for two days starting today in Arusha to discuss priority areas for the private sector in the negotiations.
The meeting, organized by the East African Business Council (EABC) with support from TradeCom Facility, is expected to come up with strategies for the private sector in East Africa to articulate its position on various issues pertaining to EPA.
A statement issued by the EABC here yesterday said the meeting is part of the cooperation between EABC and TradeCom Facility on a project aimed at improving EAC private sector awareness on the EPA and involvement in trade policy.
"EAC-EC EPA is another form of integration between the EAC and the European Union with the aim of creating an EAC-European Union Free Trade Area," Adrian Njau, the Project Coordinator
"This integration pattern will have substantial impact on the private sector in the EAC region. Therefore, private sector participation in such negotiations is of paramount importance," he added.
In 2007 the East African Community initialed a Framework Economic Partnership Agreement (FEPA) with European Commission which was expected to be concluded on July 31, 2009.
However, the signing was postponed to a later date yet to be agreed until negotiating teams iron out contentious issues. Some of the contentious issues include development cooperation, most favoured nation clause, trade in services.
"The private sector in the region has little knowledge of EPA negotiations, how the new trade regime will impact to their businesses and how best they can play an active role in ensuring that private sector interests are duly taken on board," Njau said.
According to Njau, the meeting will therefore enhance the competence of the private sector, by updating them on negotiation trend with the aim of improving their capacity to contribute to and support negotiations regardless of the level at which negotiations have reached.
The FEPA contains market access offers on trade in goods made by both the EAC and EC to each other, development cooperation issues and fisheries and provides space for further negotiations leading to a comprehensive and full EPA.
It excludes sensitive products such as agricultural products from liberalization as well as a clause to shelter growing industry from external competition.
EU's market access offer consists of duty free and quota free access to imports from the EAC partner states except for rice and sugar for which a transitional arrangement was put in place. Exports of rice will continue to attract a tariff until January 1, 2010 at which point it will become duty
free while exports of sugar attracted a tariff until October 1, 2009.
The EU has been negotiating EPA with African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries since September 2002 with the aim of replacing non-reciprocal trade preferences granted under the Cotonou Agreement.
EPAs are structured to introduce reciprocity to trade arrangement between EU and developing
nations as per World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements.
However, EPAs have often met obstacles with only Caribbean countries under the Caribbean Forum Configuration able to conclude negotiations for full EPA. Four countries (Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe), of Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) configuration, under which EAC initially negotiated,in August 2009, signed an interim agreement with the EU but Comoros and Zambia did not sign.
EABC is an apex body of business associations in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi with the aim of promoting private sector's regional and global competitiveness in trade and investment.