Uganda is moving towards signing the EAC- EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs), a senior government official disclosed on Friday.
EPAs are a form of trade partnership, required by the Cotonou Agreement, which covers economic relations between the European Union (EU) and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States.
Goods and services coming from ACP countries previously enjoyed preferential access to the EU markets under the Lomé Agreement. However, with the onset of globalization and trade liberalization, and increasing opposition from WTO states, the ACP countries and the EU agreed to develop new WTO-compatible trading arrangements, progressively removing barriers to trade between them and enhancing cooperation in all areas relevant to trade.
These new arrangements would be termed Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) and fell under the new Cotonou Agreement, which defined economic relations between the EU and the ACP since 2000.
The delayed signing of the EPA negotiations that started in 2002, (10 years ago) has been described by trade experts as an impediment to economic growth to the Least Developed Countries.
Emmanuel Mutahunga the Senior Principle Commercial Officer and one of the lead technical negotiators in the Ministry of Trade Industry and Commerce revealed that following last week's senior officials meeting in Mombasa, the negotiations were moving towards a right direction.
"Negotiations are about give and take. The starting point is to know where you are going and what you intended to get out of it all," said Mutahunga.
He was giving an update of the EPA negotiations during a Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiation Institute (SEATINI) workshop held at Hotel Africana on Friday.
He noted that though the negotiations were like swimming on troubles waters, "Uganda has to find a right balance to remain afloat or sink."
He said they had so far discusses aspects of Trade regime for foods and market access, framework to avoid trade disruption, duty free and quota free access for all EAC exports to the EU.
"We shall continue talking until we all agree, if they push us, we shall also push them. In last week's meeting in Mombasa, we covered the customs and trade facilitation, economic and development cooperation texts, rules of origin" he said. He pointed out that the EAC negotiators had refused to abide by the new clause imposed by the EU regarding inclusion of Good Governance in Tax related areas.
"We agree that governance affects trade, but we said we shall agree on these after signing the mutual agreement," said Mutahunga. He urged the Private sector to warm up for EPA saying they will be left in the dark unless they get on board.
Jane Nalunga the SEATINI Uganda country director said 10 years of negotiations makes everybody tired but urged for consistency so that the signing of EPAs benefits Uganda. "The EPA policies are very broad and does not address the challenges such as high unemployment rates facing the country at the moment,' she said. Nalunga pointed out that the EPAs is after liberalizing the African markets. "Let's only sign once we know it will benefit the grassroots woman in Luwero," she said.
Ambassador Nathan Irumba a renowned WTO negotiator and former Ugandan envoy to Geneva warned against rushing to sign EPAs. "It is only 15 countries from the Caribbean under the CARIFORUM who have signed the full EPAs but just three years down the road there is nothing achievable on ground," he said. He said the EPA implementation is a problem for many states. "By mid-2011 only 5 of the 15 states that signed had set up the implementation units and there is nothing to show in terms of export and beneficial gains," he said.
He noted that for over 30 years, exports from the ACP countries were given generous access to the European market, yet preferential access failed to boost local economies and stimulate growth in ACP countries.
The proportion of EU imports from ACP countries dropped from 7% to 3% of EU imports. Though Europe still remains a key importer of EAC goods especially agriculture stuffs such as flowers, vegetables, fish and fish products, the EAC- EU exports continues to reduce with exports standing at 34% in 2003, dropping to 23.2% in 2007 and 10 18.9% in 2011.