Expert warns against signing EPAs deal

The New Vision, October 24, 2010

East African states have been advised to go slow in signing the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) unless they are satisfied with its content.

The European Union is reforming its trade deals with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP), which have existed for over a half a century.

EPAs aim at establishment of a free trade area as well as the promotion of sustainable development and poverty reduction by helping the integration of ACP countries into the world trading system and supporting their own regional economic integration.

The European Commission has called a conference in Brussels on November 8, to rescue the faltering trade negotiations between the EU and ACP.

Atul Kaushik, the director of Consumer Unity and Trust Society International Geneva Resource Centre, described EPAs as a big challenge to regional trade.

"By the look of things, EPAs may foster trade delays within the region unless proper agreements are adhered to," said Kaushik.

"It is better to delay signing an agreement than sign and get to understand the contents later. There is still time for East African states to sign the EPAs," he said.

He was last week speaking during the Uganda Fostering Equity and Accountability in the Trading System national dialogue at the Grand Imperial Hotel in Kampala.

"When we started this project in 2008, we were told EPAs would be signed by July 2009. With recent visits to various states, it is clear that even the November deadline will not be met," he said.

Most parties still believe EPAs are a promotion of the neo-liberal policies of deregulation, liberalsation and privatisation.

Kaushik said the fostering research discovered that while the situation varies among countries and different stakeholders, the research affirms that much still needed to be done before the actual signing.

The Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiation Institute Uganda country director Jane Nalunga said the pressure to sign the EPAs was too much.

"We failed to sign the agreement in the last meeting that we had in Dar-Es-Salaam in June because we could not agree.

"We are now supposed to sign in November but despite the mounting pressure, we still do not know what we are going to sign," said Nalunga.

Nalunga cited the mounting pressure to seal the deal from donors who include European Union.

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