East Africa says EU trade deal talks still on

Reuters Trade ministers from the East African Community (EAC) economic bloc plan to continue trade talks with the European Union despite missing a November deadline, a top Kenyan official said on Tuesday. David Nalo, permanent secretary to Kenya’s East African Community Affairs ministry, told Reuters he expected the negotiations to last another year.

“Ministers of Trade in Arusha have agreed to engage with (the European Commission) and complete the negotiations that will lead to the signing of a full EPA,” Nalo said by telephone.

“This decision opens a new era of serious engagement … It is estimated that this will require about one year from now.”

The EAC and the European Union have been at loggerheads for months over an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which was meant to replace preferential trade deals that the World Trade Organisation has rejected.

Trade between the EAC and EU amounted to 4.8 billion euros in 2008, according to the latest European Commission data.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi warned the European Union on Monday at an EU-Africa summit in Libya that Africa would turn to other trade partners if the EU continued to impose terms for cooperation. [ID:nLDE6AS1YG]

The five EAC members — Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda — initialled the EPA deal in 2007 and secured continued EU market access for their products.

But they have so far failed to sign the final accord, meaning there are no legally binding pacts. It was meant to be signed last July, but was held up by disputes over trade and development issues, and a new deadline was set for November. [ID:nLDE658272] The East African Community has a population of 133.5 million and a combined gross domestic product of $74.5 billion.

East Africa’s largest economy, Kenya, stands to lose most if the EU deal is not signed as it is excluded from the preferential classification of Least Developed Country.

It would miss out on exporting goods to Europe tariff-free under the Everything But Arms initiative, which other EAC members already qualify for, and would have to start paying duty of between 8.5 and 15.7 per cent.

EAC is one of five African groupings that are negotiating the new deal, meant to replace preferential trade agreements with the EU. Others are being negotiated with Caribbean and Pacific nations.

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