EU delegation visits Kenya over trade deal
22 July 2016, 21:13
Nairobi (Xinhua) -- A delegation of European Union (EU) parliamentarians has embarked on a series of meetings with Kenyan officials on alternatives to an outstanding dispute over the signing of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), allowing barrier-free trade, the lawmakers said Wednesday.
The members of the delegation held talks with Kenyan trade and foreign affairs ministry officials and prepared to meet with members of the civil society to gather concerns about the EPA, a free trade deal which is being prepared for signature after more than 10 years of talks with the EU in Brussels.
Bernd Lange, Chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on International Trade, said the EU was prepared to discuss new alternatives to the agreement ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline for signing it.
Kenya, a country classified as a developing nation, risks losing a big market for the flowers, fruits and vegetables unless an agreement is reached on duty-free access to the EU after the deadline.
Trade talks between the East African Community (EAC) member states, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania, on the EPA have dragged on since they kicked off in 2004.
Tanzania, a member of the EAC, declined to sign the trade deal until certain issues of concern, mostly those dealing with export regulations, are fully settled, according to officials.
The EU lawmakers, including Helmut Scholz, Marie Arena, Arne Lietz and Lange, said an arrangement to enable Kenyan farmers and exporters continue to access the EU market could be agreed, but only if the Kenyan authorities make an official request for consideration by the EU bodies.
"We have a big problem with Burundi. The EU rules of procedure do not allow us to vote on an agreement with countries under EU sanctions," Arena told reporters at a news conference at the venue of the UN Conference on Trade and Development's (UNCTAD) 14th session holding in Nairobi.
Kenyan foreign affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed has been playing down the potential of Kenyan exporters failing to get access to the European market due to the failure to have the trade agreement with the EU.
The EU lawmakers said a meeting with the Kenyan officials due to be held next month, would determine the decisions required to guarantee Kenya's access to the European market.
The EU lawmakers said it would be possible for Kenya to gain access to the EU once a request is made for consideration under the EU's General Scheme of Preferences (GSP).The agreement allows developing countries to access the EU market by paying minimal duty or no duty at all.
"We are keen on having more development aspects on the trade negotiations," Arena told reporters in Nairobi. "We have problems from the EU side and the problems from the region," Arena said.
The EU has declined granting Burundi access to its markets because of sanctions against President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose controversial re-election for a disputed third term, led to the EU sanctions.
The EU lawmakers said measures to protect the Kenyan economy would be required urgently, including consideration of requests for approval allowing Kenya to trade under the GSP classification.
The Kenyan government has embarked on shuttle diplomacy to have Burundi and the other EAC states sign the EPA to save the country from losing the key export markets.
Kenya's deputy President William Ruto visited Burundi on July 13 for talks with the authorities on the signing of the trade agreement.