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Officials expressed optimism that an Economic Partnership Agreement would be reached before the October 1 deadline to guarantee quota-free access to the region’s primary market.
Kenya has strongly hinted that it is prepared to cede ground at the next round of talks in a frantic attempt to end a stalemate that has delayed the signing of a key trade pact that would see Kenyan exports continue enjoying preferential access to the European Union market.
Government officials negotiating as part of the East African Community trade bloc on Thursday expressed optimism that an Economic Partnership Agreement would be reached before the October 1 deadline to guarantee quota-free access to the region’s primary market, for mainly agricultural exports.
The lapse of the existing interim preferential trade deals without another arrangement would mean imposition of import duties on Kenya’s fresh produce cut flowers, fruits, fish, beans, coffee and tea entering the European Union at the rates of between 8.5 and 14.5 per cent.
Peter Mwaniki, the lead negotiator at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said Kenya had already come up with a position and would lobby other EAC members at a meeting slated for the third week of May ahead of the make-or-break talks later on in the month in the EU capital, Brussels.
“Kenya has a position. We need to convince EAC at our internal meeting on May 20th to take a flexible approach. EAC will request EU to do the same,” Mr Mwaniki told a forum on trade and investment between Kenya and Europe, in Nairobi.
At the same time, Mr Mwaniki allayed fears amongst exporters that the region was running out of time in reaching a deal.
“We have agreed on six out of the nine outstanding issues, and will work hard to meet the deadline,” he said.
Three sticking points — domestic support for home-grown entrepreneurs, export taxes and the old pact under the Cotonou Agreement — have derailed the decade-long talks.
The Cotonou Agreement, signed between the EU and 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, seeks to facilitate poverty eradication, contribute to gradual integration of ACP countries into the world economy, and fight against impunity by promoting criminal justice.
EU head of delegation Lodewijk Briet said though the EU was hopeful there would be a deal, it was not prepared to budge on two of the issues.
“The EU Parliament insists on respect for Human rights and the Most Favoured Nation clause, giving us a symmetrical access in time and in scope for EU’s 28 member states,” Mr Briet told the forum.
“We are hopeful and are doing our best to conclude soon. We are in touch with our negotiating team in Brussels to make sure that disruption, if any, is minimal,” Mr Briet told the meeting.
The MFN clause seeks to guarantee quota-free access to the EAC for European exports, where the EAC member states enter into preferential pacts with other blocs. The EU is the EAC’s second most important trading partner, after the African continent.
Flower exporters said they were confident that the strong negotiating team for Kenya at the talks would arrive at a deal.
“The progress of the EPA talks is encouraging. The team has negotiated what is best for the country,” said Jane Ngige, CEO for the Kenya Flower Council.
While Kenya’s competing producers in the Pacific and Caribbean regions and West African states under Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) have concluded pacts, only the EAC and South African Development Community (SADC) have yet to conclude a trade deal in a move that may render these regions’ exports uncompetitive.
– Daily Nation