East Africa: British Envoy Says Rejecting Europe Deal a Bad Choice for EAC

The United Kingdom backs the East African Community (EAC) signing the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union, its envoy to Rwanda has said, warning that failure do so would be “regretful”.

“The reason we support the EPA strongly is because we think it is a very good deal, particularly for the EAC. For any country that expects to become a middle income economy in the next few years, this offers, by the far, the best opportunity to ensure market access in the EU,” British High Commissioner to Rwanda, Ambassador William Gelling, said.

“We are doing everything we can to explain the details and address the concerns that some have about the EPA. It will be extremely regretful for the EAC if it were not possible to sign up to this.”

Brexit fears

Tanzania has said it would not sign the trade deal, citing fears that Britain’s recent vote to leave the EU would greatly weaken the agreement.

This was shortly followed by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni who urged Europe “not to get excited” over what has only been discussed at ministerial level and not by the EAC heads of state.

The EPA – which is supposed to be enforced once all EAC member states have signed – is now in jeopardy, with only Kenya and Rwanda in favour of signing the deal so far.

Mr Gelling added that although UK voted to leave the EU, the UK cannot at the moment sign bilateral trade deals out of the EU, and that the EAC-EU trade deal would not be largely affected by Britain’s exit.

“As long as the UK is part of the EU, which it will for at least two more years, we are not in a position to negotiate trade agreements because we legally do not have the right to do that,” he said.

“For now the EPAs are a very advantageous deal for EAC. For example, it is a good deal for Rwanda which hopes to become a middle income country in the next few years.”

Signing the EPA has been pending since its introduction in 2007.

The deal was introduced as a direct response to criticism by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that EU’s trade policies with Africa are non-reciprocal and discriminating.

If it is eventually signed, the EPA is expected to provide a contractual framework through which EAC and EU conduct trade and development, including the creation of a free trade area between Europe and EAC, as well as removal of EU trade preferences.

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