A European Union (EU) push to increase the number of goods entering the East African Community (EAC) without paying duty has delayed the signing of a trade pact between the two blocs.
The standoff has seen only two out of five states endorse the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) under special arrangement with the EU to continue accessing the duty-free market.
If the EAC bows to pressure, the move will mean that 17.5 per cent of goods from Europe that have been blocked from accessing the bloc duty-free allowed entry.
Tanzania and Uganda have refused to endorse the deal to their protect local industries from stiff competition by EU products. There is also fear of loss of revenue with no duty being paid on the goods.
East African Community secretary-general Liberat Mfumukeko says Europe wants to review the terms of engagement with the EAC bloc over EPA, which would see more goods enter the region under duty-free terms.
“We have been in talks with the European Union over the issue but I cannot give my position now [on] whether we shall allow their demand or not because this is a long process that requires a lot of discussions,” said Mr Mfumukeko.
For the deal to be effective, all the EAC member states are supposed to sign as a bloc but so far it is only Kenya and Rwanda that have endorsed it.
The decision for joint signing will likely take longer than expected after the EAC summit failed to agree on a common stand during their meeting in Kampala last week.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni during an official visit in Nairobi late last year assured his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta that the matter would be discussed and finalised during the heads of state meeting.
All EAC members have been negotiating the EPA since 2007 leading to conclusion of negotiations in 2014.