European Union Says 11-Year East African Trade Talks to End Soon

European Union Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht said a comprehensive trade agreement that gives preferential market access to East African exports is “close to conclusion” after 11 years of negotiations.

The parties have agreed on the framework for market access and narrowed the issues under negotiation to “export taxes and non-compliance provisions,” De Gucht said in an interview today in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. “I am here to give the negotiations a final political push,” he said.

Under the agreement, the EU will offer to continue duty-free and quota-free access for exports from the five-nation EAC, comprising Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi with a combined gross domestic product of $85 billion. The so-called Economic Partnership Agreement will require those nations to lower trade barriers, improve food-safety standards and simplify trade and investment procedures, according to a statement e-mailed today by the EU office in Nairobi.

Failure to agree on an EPA before the Oct. 1, 2014 deadline in an interim deal could result in the European Union imposing duties on items imported from East Africa, De Gucht said. “Kenyan flower exports to the EU for instance would attract 6 percent tax, which would come to about 20 million euros ($26 million), at current volumes, if they don’t sign,” he said.

Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, is the world’s largest black-tea exporter and it supplies one-third of the flowers traded in Europe. The EU is Kenya’s biggest trading partner, receiving about one-quarter of its exports.

Officials from the EU and the EAC are meeting for a round of talks in Arusha, Tanzania from tomorrow through July 19.

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