Litmus test awaits EAC as Tanzania refuses to sign Economic Partnership Agreement

 

The hesitation by Tanzania to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) is a tell-tale sign that East Africa countries under the East African Community (EAC) bloc are not reading from the same script.

This is disheartening as such lack of high-level consensus has far reaching damage on the integration process. And if this is not resolved soon, then it could prove to be a fatal blow to the dreams of the five partner states including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi that had hoped to become one under a single trading, political and customs bloc driven by the EAC motto.

Already Tanzania, a key member of the EAC is showing unwillingness to budge until it is certain that the EPAs not only eliminate its fears but captures its aspirations as well as provide a window through which it can jump out if things do not go according to plan.

Tanzania also wants to further understand how the exit of Britain from the EU bloc will impact EPAs, and until that is done, it is not prepared to be rushed into signing the agreement.

Simply put, EPA is an initiative by the EU to secure free market access in the region and reciprocate in equal measure.

Should the deal collapse, products from East Africa to the EU and vice versa will not be subjected to any preferential treatment.

Although Uganda has shown the willingness to delay signing the deal, the Ministry of Trade senior leadership cannot wait to sign the dotted line, arguing that there is more to gain out of the pact for the country, generating a disagreement between trade and treaty specialists.

Burundi continues to stand on the fence and recently joined Tanzania to object to the signing.

Kenya, just like Uganda, is itching to have the deal signed in its current shape. Kenya has for the last 12 years been under intense pressure to sign the agreement. This because if it goes through, its flower industry, which will be a key beneficiary will be assured of the lucrative EU market.

At the moment it appears that it is a matter of when rather than how before Kenya appends its signature.

And if that happens, depending on the corridor talk, Kenya looks set to go it alone, something which will be a litmus test on the future of the EAC and the integration agenda.

Before 2000 when the current EAC was reinvigorated after its collapse in 1977, several reasons among them, the political differences, especially between Uganda and Tanzania had been widely cited as part of the disharmony in the integration agenda.

However, as it looks now, some partner states including Tanzania and Kenya are overly consumed, and rightly so, with guarding their economic interest before thinking of anything else, including the wider EAC integration agenda.

Should the member countries continue to guard their turf without due regard to the wider regional integration agenda, it will not be long before the cracks begin to show.

And unlike many years ago, this time economic reasons rather than the confrontational politics would go down as the last nail that rendered the regional bloc lifeless.

What a litmus test to navigate through…

Ismail Ladu is a business writer and acting Bureau Chief, Jinja bureau at the Daily Monitor