17 May 2017

East Africa: Trade Deal With EU, Secretariat Funding Mechanism Top Agenda of EAC Summit

Photo: East African Legislative Assembly
Member states and and East African Legislative Assembly flags.

The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between East African Community (EAC) partner states and the European Union, search for a sustainable financing mechanism and assent to bills passed by the regional Assembly are among the agenda items of the upcoming summit, an official has said.

The leaders of the six EAC partner states are due to meet in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, on Saturday for their annual summit that has been postponed three times in the recent past.

While in Kigali, earlier this year, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) passed a resolution urging the Council to find a common stance on partner states' funding deficit by having it on the agenda of next EAC Summit.

Richard Owora, the EAC head of corporate communications and public affairs, told The New Times yesterday that the provisional agenda of the summit also includes matters concerning the EAC Political Federation, the fourth goal of regional integration, after the Customs Union, Common Market and Monetary Union.

According to Owora, the 18th Ordinary Summit of EAC Heads of State will also consider various reports including the "report on the roadmap for the accelerated integration" of South Sudan.

South Sudan deposited the instruments of ratification of the accession Treaty on September 5, 2016, and the summit is set to appoint a judge from South Sudan to the East African Court of Justice.

South Sudan has already elected its nine members for the fourth East African Legislative Assembly in June.

The summit will also consider a progress report on admission of Somalia to EAC.

The annual report of the Council of Ministers, a progress report on the implementation framework for the EAC institutional review, and a report on the implementation of previous decisions of the summit, are also lined up for discussion.

The 34th Extraordinary Meeting of the EAC Council of Ministers is taking place in Dar to prepare all the above mentioned agenda items for the Summit, Owora said.

Concerns about EPAs

The recent 35th Ordinary Meeting of the Council of Ministers in Arusha looked at partner states' concerns about the EAC-EU EPA deal. In September last year, trade ministers for Rwanda and Kenya signed the deal in Brussels, Belgium.

Although Rwanda and Kenya have no concerns, the last Council meeting was informed that Uganda's interest was for the partner states to move to sign the agreement as a bloc; and explore available options in the event that some partner states sign the EPA and others do not.

The Council's report, a copy of which The New Times has seen, notes that while Bujumbura's only concern is that "EU unilaterally suspended direct partnership with the Government of Burundi," Tanzania maintains reservations and needs the EAC Secretariat to conduct a detailed analysis on the effects in order to bring about regional perspective to the Community.

Tanzania's 15 specific concerns include effects of EPA on EAC industrial development, effects of EU subsidies and domestic support on EAC farmers accessing EU market, bridging the gap of revenue losses resulting from substantial trade liberalisation, and effect of Brexit as UK is one of the major trading partner of EAC countries.

Tanzania also questions the rationale of Burundi signing EPA while the EU has imposed an embargo on her exports.

Conclusively, Tanzania is of the view that signing a bad EPA deal will set a bad precedence, which will compromise the region's interests in all other subsequent negotiations on free trade agreements (FTAs).

South Sudan informed the Council that being a new partner state, it will need time to study the issues related to the EAC-EU EPA negotiations.

Considering the different views, the Council recalled the summit decision stating that the matter regarding EPA will be considered on the summit agenda.

"It was noted that the divergent views are positions of partner states, and as such the views were to be consolidated and subsequently forwarded to the summit."

Draft legislations

The Bills set to be assented to by the Heads of State during the summit are the EAC Customs Management (Amendment) Bill, 2016; the EAC Appropriation Bill, 2016; and the EAC Supplementary Appropriation Bill, 2016.

Consultations on Political Federation

It is not clear whether the Summit will conclude on the matter of the Political Federation as consultations could still be underway.

A confederation model is being mulled instead of a political federation as the last stage of EAC integration. A confederation, according to Judy Njeru, senior assistant director for political affairs in Kenya's state department of EAC integration, is a union of political units for common action in relation to other units.

Njeru has previously explained that confederations tend to be established for dealing with critical issues such as defence and security, foreign affairs, a common currency, and immigration and labour movement, and that the idea of a confederation as a transitional phase toward the political federation is desirable, particularly since partner states will retain their sovereignty and only transfer some capacity in identified areas.

Meanwhile, the recent Arusha meeting recalled that a previous session of the Council observed that upon further consultations, all partner states had generated convergence on confederation as the model for the EA Federation.

"The meeting agreed that the Constitutional experts will provide a proposal on the areas to be covered under pooled sovereignty. The Republic of Kenya requested that she be given more time to consult on the proposal for the Confederation," reads the Council's recent report.

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