Tanzanian parliament advises government not to sign EPA with EU

17 November 2016

Last week, members of the Tanzanian parliament (MPs) unanimously called on the East African country’s government not to sign an Economic Partnership agreement (EPA) negotiated between the EU and member states of the East African Community (EAC), many of them pointing to potential negative implications for Tanzania’s industrialisation strategy if the deal is inked in its current form.

The parliamentary vote was preceded by an information session during which three scholars – Palamagamba Kabudi, Ng'waza Kamatta, and John Jingu, all from the University of Dar es Salaam –warned MPs that the pact would be detrimental to the country’s economy. These scholars had been tasked by the Ministry of Industries, Trade, and Investment to assess the implications of the EPA.

Members of parliament from both the ruling party and the opposition parties called on the Tanzanian government to renegotiate the EPA on terms that would allow for better protection of domestic industries.

A few parliamentarians also expressed concerns that rejecting the deal could have a negative impact on aid flows and development cooperation between the EU and EAC countries.

“Yes, we are rejecting this deal because it is bad for our economy, but how far are we prepared to deal with the consequences? I suggest that we start to prepare early and allocate funds in the next budget for implementing development projects currently financed by the EU," said Saada Mkuya from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, who is also a former minister of finance.

Despite the parliament’s advisory vote, the Tanzanian government still has the possibility to go ahead and sign the accord, as recently underlined by EU’s ambassador to Tanzania and the EAC Roeland van de Geer.

“In January, there will be an EAC Summit and this issue will be discussed. I hope they will reach a consensus. We cannot go without some countries,” he said.

The EAC and the EU finalised the EPA negotiations in October 2014, seven years after their start in 2007. The agreement was expected to be signed in July 2016 on the margin of the fourteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 14), but the signing was postponed after Tanzania expressed the need for more time to review the content of the EPA and evaluate its potential economic impacts (See Bridges Africa, 22 July 2016).

At that time, Uganda also announced it would delay signing the EPA until all EAC members – except South Sudan, who is not involved in the EPA process – have reached a common position.

Last September, an extraordinary summit of the EAC heads of state failed to produce such a consensus, with member countries deciding to further delay their decision on the EPA, pushing it to January 2017 to allow for additional discussions.

“We have given ourselves three months to discuss further the signing of the EPA agreement and we will meet in January 2017 over this issue. We will not fail to agree, and I believe as a regional bloc, the solution we reach will be a win-win,” declared John Magufuli, Tanzanian President and Chairman of the EAC, at the summit.

The deadline for EAC members to sign and ratify the EPA was 1 October 2016. Strong concerns had been expressed by Kenya – the only non-least developed country of the region – that should EAC countries fail to ink the deal in time, the country’s exports could suffer a heavy blow as Kenya’s conditions of access to the EU market would significantly deteriorate.

Although this deadline has now been missed, Kenya has been able to retain its preferences. The EU accepted to extend the open market conditions for Kenyan exporters after Kenya signed the EPA in late August. Rwanda also signed the agreement in September.

“We are hopeful everybody will come on board and then rather than just having a window of access into the EU, we will enjoy a much more comprehensive agreement that has some benefits of development infrastructure that will come as a result of that agreement being signed," said Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Cooperatives Adan Mohamed, commenting on the extension in late September.

With last week’s vote by Tanzanian MPs, prospects for the EAC signing the EPA as a whole seem to have become even thinner. East African leaders are now expected to hold discussions on this issue during an EAC summit scheduled in January.

ICTSD reporting; “Don’t sign EU accord, Parliament tells govt,” The Citizen, 9 November 2016.

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