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All Africa | 18 February 2020
East Africa: UK seeks trade pact with Rwanda, EAC
By Collins Mwai
The United Kingdom is seeking to enter into a trade pact with the East African Community member countries.
With the country, which just left the European Union (and into a one-year transition phase), is keen on having long-term and sustainable trade ties with the EAC region.
Currently, during the one-year transition period set to end on December 31, the UK- EAC trade engagement will be under European Union protocol where most regional countries including Rwanda apply the Everything But Arms treaty.
In an exclusive interview with The New Times UK High Commissioner to Rwanda, Jo Lomas, said that they are looking to negotiate a trade deal somewhat similar to EAC’s Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.
"We are looking to have a trade deal with the EAC, along the lines of what was agreed upon by the EU. Ultimately, we would like to be negotiating something more ambitious but we are keen not to disrupt trade," she said.
She said that, so far, they have commenced consultations with the EAC secretariat as well as EAC member states, including Rwanda.
"We have started to consult with the EAC secretariat and the EAC states on how to take that forward. The Rwandan Minister for Trade was in London and we had an initial discussion," she said.
She noted that the lack of an EAC-EU binding economic agreement necessitated the negotiation of a new one.
"If there was trade agreement with the EU already in operation, we would transition to one. At the moment, there is none. Our options are either EAC decides to implement it and we transition from that or we come up with a new agreement," she noted.
The EAC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement, that was under negotiations for over 5 years, was only signed by two countries, Rwanda and Kenya.
Ahead of the signing by the two countries, there were concerns by some regional countries that the deal could pose a risk to regional economies as their infant industries would face unfair competition due to products from the European Union flooding the regional markets.
Lomas said that the agreement to be negotiated would still be conscious of the need by Rwanda and other regional countries to protect emerging local industries with generous deadlines but with an eventual goal of free trade.
"We are still in negotiations so I would not want to pre-empt that. The EPA gives a good indication of what we are looking for. We want to have provisions to protect some industries and eventually open up their markets but with generous deadlines and timelines. We would like Rwanda to continue to export to the UK. We enjoy your coffee, tea, chillis, green beans but, ultimately, we should be aiming for free trade," she said.
In the event the one-year timeline ends before end of negotiations, Rwanda will continue to enjoy access to the UK market though the Everything But arms treaty.
The UK is also negotiating with other blocs and countries, including the EU.
"Now that we have left the EU, we are free to negotiate our own trade agreements. We are now a sovereign state, our own decision-makers and we will be looking for the best trade deal we can get and will be working in the UK interest. We will be negotiating that in the next 11 months. As we are not a member of the EU, we will be taking our own seat in international forums," the UK envoy to Rwanda said.