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Africa: Continent asks for more time in EU trade talks

The East African Standard (Nairobi)

February 13, 2007

Africa: Continent Asks for More Time in EU Trade Talks

Benson Kathuri

African countries have asked the European Union (EU) to extend the on-going Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) talks by another one year.

Speaking in Nairobi, trade ministers and experts from the continent said the region could not conclude the EPAs negotiations before December.
Western Union

The trade talks that started over four years ago are expected to develop a new policy to govern trade between the 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and replace the existing Cotonou Agreement.

The Cotonou agreement signed in the Benin capital six years ago, guarantees exports from the ACP countries a quota and duty free access to the world’s largest trading block - European Union.

In a speech read on his behalf by the Ministry’s permanent secretary, Mr David Nalo, Kituyi said the negotiations under EPAs should be a means but not an end in itself.

The experts said they had written to the EU asking for the extension of the current trade arrangements and are waiting for a positive response.

"Should we fail to meet the deadline, Kenya will suffer massively as our exports mainly in the horticultural sector will attract duty at between eight and 10 per cent," said Mr Rod Evans, a director of the Kenya Flower Council.

He claimed that Kenya and four other developing countries negotiating the pact under the East and Southern African group is being held captive by those already guaranteed market access with or without the trade pact.

The EU has created a special clause under the ’Everything But Arms’ clause that gives similar treatment to least developed countries, which Kenya and other big players in the continent are excluded.

Most of the LDC countries, including neighbouring Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania, have unlimited market access and can opt not to negotiate.

Already, some flower companies have migrated to Ethiopia in an effort to avoid the uncertainty ahead.

"The move is a desperate attempt to diversify the risk just incase we do not meet the deadline and the promised generalised special preferences are not good enough," said Evans.

Horticultural exports that include fruits and vegetables accounts for over 60 per cent of the total exports to the EU far more than coffee and tea.