• Individual signing by Kenya, Rwanda is ‘insignificant’
  • Nation also wants revisions to regional customs union

Tanzania wants the six-nation East African Community bloc to delay signing a trade agreement with the European Union to consider the impact the treaty may have on their economies.

The countries have been negotiating the so-called Economic Partnership Agreement, or EPA, with the European Union since 2002, a pact that will give it duty- and quota-free access for produce including flowers, fruit and vegetables. The EAC groups Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

East African presidents are scheduled to meet on Thursday in Tanzania to discuss the agreement before a Oct. 1 deadline. Rwanda and Kenya initialed the EPA in Brussels last week, a move Tanzania’s Foreign Affairs Minister Augustine Mahiga said was “insignificant” as all nations had to be on board for the treaty to take effect.

“Signing individually violates the EAC treaty because it requires such trade agreements to be signed as a bloc,” Mahiga told reporters in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. “Our friends have signed, but they know it won’t take them far. Without the bloc, you are putting the cart before the horse.”

Tanzania wants the EAC to consider the impact the EPA may have on the region’s weak manufacturing base and to discuss the bloc’s customs union, Mahiga said. Kenya is the only nation that stands to lose access to Europe because it isn’t grouped among the Least Developed Countries. The others can continue exporting to the bloc under a separate Everything But Arms treaty for LDCs.

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Burundi has already signaled it won’t sign, citing EU sanctions, while South Sudan is yet to gain full membership in the bloc. Uganda is expected to commit to the treaty at the summit on Thursday, Nairobi-based Business Daily reported on Monday, without saying how it got the information. Mahiga said Uganda was willing to sign as a bloc.

“Fourteen years to-date, there have been changes in the EAC and the EU,” Mahiga said. “We are of the position that these changes be accommodated. We want more time.”

Tanzania also wants Britain’s exit from the EU to be considered as the nation is a major trading partner of East African countries. It would like provisions in the EAC treaty and customs union that will be affected by the EPA reviewed, a process that will probably take less than a year, Mahiga said.

“The kind of rigidity which is in the customs union and the treaty is to be revisited,” he said. “I think that is the way forward.”

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