FINNS FACTS: How Mramba, Mwapachu gave away our future to Europe Finnigan wa Simbeye THIS DAY SOME members of the African Union who are also party to Africa, Caribbean and Pacific states bloc currently negotiating economic partnership agreements with European Commission have expressed concern over the signing of an interim agreement between East African Community members and the EC. Trade, Industry and Marketing Minister Basil Pesambili Mramba signed on behalf of Tanzania alongside his counterparts from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. Mramba has assured the public that the interim EPA deal is provisional and that detailed negotiations leading to the signing of a comprehensive trade and development agreement will be concluded in the next two years. On his side, EAC Secretary General Juma Mwapachu, the man who shoulders the bulk of the blame for taking the region into a disastrous trade pact that will witness massive job losses and depletion of government revenue by 2022, is putting on a brave face and emphasizing that it will benefit the smallholder coffee farmer in Kilimanjaro and his peer in Mbeya who plants tea. The argument is pretty good and powerful, if we dont sign the interim deal, then come January 1, 2008, EAC commodity exporters would have lost the market in Europe because then a five-year WTO waiver issued in favour of ACP-EU preferential trade regime which discriminates against other WTO members, would be expired. But as a least developed country, does Tanzania need to worry about that? We certainly signed to save cut flower producers from Kenya whose government was increasingly under pressure from trans-national corporations which include Unilever, Home Grown, Oserean and many others, which feared to lose the lucrative European market come January 1, 2008. Kenya is a developing country and the EC argues that under EPA trade deal, Nairobi should open up its market to European exports by 2022. By any means, Nairobi has no option but to sign the EPA deal by December 31, 2007 and start the 15 years countdown to trade reciprocity with Europe on January 1, 2008. Nairobi which negotiated the EPA through Eastern and Southern Africa�a faction of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), had asked for a 25-year period of grace before opening up to superior European exports. The EC rejected the proposal from ESA and stuck to its proposed 15-year-grace period but this time around Nairobi managed to drag along four LDCs which include Tanzania to fall prey to the EC�s carefully calculated move. After all under the East African Customs Union which we kick-started in January 2005, the EAC members will cease imposing duty on most of the goods manufactured in the region by 2012. Currently, its only Kenyan exports that are attracting duty while entering other EAC member country markets. Until mid this year, the EAC EPA bloc was non-existent and Tanzania was negotiating the EPA under Southern African Development Community while Kenya alongside Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda negotiated under ESA. So what was signed by the EAC was actually an ESA position which was heavily influenced by Kenya and which many ESA LDCs didnt subscribe to. Ultimately, Kenyas position is that of trans-national European corporations which have heavily invested in Nairobi�s economy including cut flower producers. The EAC is under company rule but its people who will heavily suffer the consequences are silent, some cheering. While, we in the EAC have thus surrendered our future economic prowess to Europe, some senior officials from the Economic Community of West African States who are pressing for an extension of time to negotiate EPAs, are concerned that what the Arusha based bloc has done, puts the other six EPA negotiating blocs within the ACP group in a difficult position. As Mramba and Mwapachu argue that the interim trade pact is only temporary and was necessary to ensure that our smallholder tea and coffee farmers as well as Lake Victoria fishermen continue accessing the European market come January 1, 2008, their peers at Ecowas feel that in fact, the EAC bloc has sold off Africas future because the EC has already started dividing and weakening them. A united front by the ACP bloc which includes Ecowas and EAC, would have given the members a stronger bargaining platform with the mighty EC unlike the functioning which has been triggered by the Arusha based regional bloc. Ecowas, which was the first of the ACP blocs to start negotiating an EPA with the EC in 2003 argues that it needs more time to address sensitive issues put on the table by the Europeans which are pending at World Trade Organizations such as government procurement, trade facilitation, investment protection and trade in services. The Europeans know that trade is fundamental to their sustainable development and survival hence the decision by politicians to stay away from the EPA negotiating process and let experts, the EC which is an executive arm of the European Union (EU), take the lead. The EC has on several occasions been criticized by some ACP leaders of being too aggressive in the EPA negotiations and until a fortnight ago when the Mramba, Mwapachu and other EAC trade ministers signed that interim EPA deal in Kampala, the Arusha based bloc was also critical of the ECs aggressive approach. While pushing for trade reciprocity, which is the bane of EPA negotiations, the EC is said to have categorically refused to negotiate its agriculture subsidies arguing that the same is a pending subject of negotiation at the WTO. For the EAC bloc, however, little should be expected even if the negotiations could have gone on for decades because our leaders are insensitive to trade matters, they prefer to spend sleepless nights negotiating aid packages.