The head of the European Union (EU) delegation to Tanzania and the East African Community (EAC), Roeland van de Geer, said the EU is open to fresh discussions over the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) matter taking into consideration that Tanzania as a sovereign country has every right to have its own opinions on the agreement.
Speaking at a function to mark Europe Day at the National Assembly grounds in Dodoma, the Tanzania’s capital City, Van de Geer said EU is still waiting for an official government response to the EPA.
“What is important is that we have a dialogue. You (Tanzania) have your convictions, we (EU) have ours, we are all human beings. Tanzania is a sovereign country and should make its own decisions,” he stated.
He added that the EU is looking forward to a robust response from the government of Tanzania.
Addressing the EU delegation which includes several members of the European Parliament (MEPs), the National Assembly deputy speaker for Tanzania Tulia Ackson said the House is responsible for advising the government on how best to deal with the EPA treaty.
“We (legislators) have a constitutional duty to advise the government on any issues of national importance. We have our position as a parliament on EPA, and we have advised the government on what we think is the best,” Ackson said.
She added: “Practically our parliament hasn’t said no to EPA, but there are a number of issues that have been raised and our parliament would want those issues to be ironed out before the government makes its decision.”
Four EAC member states - Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda - are required to sign the EPA treaty for it to become operational. So far, only Kenya and Rwanda have ratified it.
In November last year, Tanzanian MPs advised the government not to sign the treaty in its current form since it is bad for the country's economic development and should be rejected.
Under the EPA free trade agreement, Tanzania would have to reduce to zero the tariffs on 90 per cent of all its industrial goods trade with the EU, while according duty-free access for almost all EU non-agricultural products imported into the country.
However, Economic Partnership Agreements are a schemes to create free trade area (FTA) between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP). They are a response to continuing criticism that the non-reciprocal and discriminating preferential trade agreements offered by the EU are incompatible with WTO rules. The EPAs date back to the signing of the Cotonou Agreement.
The EPAs with the different regions are at different states of play. In 2016, EPAs with three African Regional Economic Communities (East African Community, Economic Community of West African States and Southern African Development Community) were to be signed but faced challenges.
Due to the continuing WTO incompatibility of previous arrangements, the EPAs' key feature is their reciprocity and their non-discriminatory nature. They involve the phased out removal of all trade preferences which have been established between the EU and the ACP countries since 1975 as well as the progressive removal of trade barriers between the partners.
In order to fulfil the criterion of being a non-discriminatory agreement, the EPAs are open to all developing countries, thereby effectively terminating the ACP group as the main development partner of the EU.
The extent to which trade must be liberalised under the new EPAs is still a widely debated issue and it remains to be seen whether the WTO provisions regulating regional trade agreements will be revised in favour of the EPA scheme at the end of the Doha Round.
True to the Cotonou principle of differentiation and regionalisation the developing countries are encouraged to enter into the EPAs in regional groupings. So far the ACP countries have formed seven regional groupings in which they intend to enter into EPAs with the European Union.