On Wednesday Tanzania said it would not sign a regional trade deal with the European Union, which is due to come into effect by October 1, and later urged neighbouring countries to back a delay, pending discussions on its effect on the region’s manufacturing sector.
Kenya and Rwanda signed the deal earlier this month but it needs approval from all members of the East African Community bloc, which includes Burundi and Uganda, to take effect.
The trade deal with the EU gives East African Community member states duty- and quota-free access for their goods to the EU, as long as they meet the set health and safety standards.
But Tanzanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Augustine Mahiga described the EU as an “industrial giant” and said fledgling industries in his country would not be able to cope with zero-rated imports of European goods.
“Tanzania will not sign the economic partnership agreement [EPA] until several issues are addressed,” Mahiga told journalists in Dar es Salaam.
East African Community member states initialled an interim EPA deal in 2007 and another in 2014. Governments were given two years from the October 2014 agreement to ratify the deal in national parliaments.
South Sudan joined the bloc this year and was not part of initial negotiations of the deal, which started in 2002.
Kenya stands to lose the most if the deal is not signed, given that other member states — including Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda — would still continue getting duty- and quota-free access because they are classified as least developed countries.
“If the EPA is not signed and ratified by all East African Community partner states by September 30 2016, Kenya stands to lose its market to the EU, having significant impact on her economy,” Kenya’s trade and industrialisation ministry said in a statement last week.
Governments in the region are also anxious to ensure that exports such as tea and fresh flowers, which are major sources of foreign exchange, are not hampered by any tariffs on trade with Britain after it leaves the EU.
Mahiga said Tanzania urged regional leaders at an East African Community heads of state summit in Dar es Salaam on Thursday to delay the signing of the deal. — Reuters