The East African Community could finally sign the new Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union this month as a bloc after Tanzania changed its initial stance.
Josep Borrel, the EU Foreign Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, says Tanzania has agreed to join the rest of the EAC countries in ratifying the deal that will see the region enjoy quota-free and duty-free access to the lucrative European market.
Mr Borrel in an interview with The East African said President Uhuru Kenyatta has indicated that Tanzania is ready to sign the deal following the change of leadership.
“President Uhuru Kenyatta told me that, finally, it seems that we could have an agreement for the whole region because the new government in Tanzania is accepting to sign the agreement,” said Mr Borrel.
Tanzania had refused to sign the EPAs deal in 2015 under the reign of former President the late John Magufuli.
Previously, it has been a prerequisite that the EPA agreement is endorsed by all EAC member states for it to become effective.
Nairobi and Kigali were the only two countries in the region to sign an EPA deal with Europe in 2016 under a special arrangement under a temporary pact with the EU to allow its goods to access the expansive market duty-free.
Normally, horticultural produce from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania enjoy preferential terms, exempting them from paying taxes to access the EU market, making the goods more competitive.
But following the hesitation to sign the pact by some EAC members, Kenyan goods stood to attract higher taxes, forcing it to seek a temporary arrangement with the EU to save the local farmers.
The signing of the EPA deal was delayed initially because some states wanted a provision for special export taxes in order to protect certain sectors they consider sensitive and to discourage the exportation of raw material to Europe.
Tanzania was cautious in signing the deal as they believed that cheap goods from European countries will flood their markets, affecting the locally-produced ones, especially in the agricultural sector.
Stakeholders in the horticulture sector want Kenya to be keen before endorsing the deal with the EU because there are new clauses that may restrict the access of Kenya’s produce to the European market.
For instance, the EU is introducing a Green Deal that would require Kenya to ban most of the pesticides in use, a move that.
“We want an EPA that is favourable to Kenya especially on agriculture so we are calling for a review of the Green Deal before it is signed,” said Ojepat Okisegere, chief executive Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya.