By Patrick Jaramogi
Legislators, trade experts and analysts have described the delayed signing of the Economic Partnerships Agreement (EPAs) as a detriment to development of trade among developing nations.
The experts noted during a two-day symposium on trade liberalization, the EPAs and the impact on sustainable development in Uganda that Uganda would best benefit if it does not sign the agreement.
Senior Ministry of Trade officials had a tough time convincing MPs, Civil Society, and trade experts about EPA benefits during the meeting held at Entebbe at the weekend.
EPAs are a scheme to create a 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 World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
“As Members of Parliament, we shall not allow to sign agreements which do not benefit the country. Let’s be very careful when signing agreements that promote unfair competition in trade,” said Stephen Mukitale Birahwa Chairperson Parliamentary Committee on National Economy.
He stressed the need to promote the purchase of locally made products before joining regional markets.
Grace Byarugaba (Isingiro Woman MP) said Uganda should first clean its house before signing EPAs. “We shall not allow any trade agreement to be signed on our backs. Let us first address quality issues,” she said.
Anthony Okello (Amolatar MP) pointed the danger of signing EPAs saying it would greatly affect the Small and Medium Scale entrepreneurs in the country.
Cyprian Batala Assistant Commissioner Trade, Industry and Cooperatives said the country was moving towards signing the EPAs.
“A lot of things have happened during the negotiations. We have agreed on a regulatory framework to guide us on this,” said Batala.
He said that signing of the EPAs does not necessarily mean that Uganda would trade with EU. He listed the clusters under negotiations as the market access, economic development cooperation and agriculture.
“All issues under economic development have been agreed,” he said. Batala pointed out that signing EPAs would increase competitiveness and deepen regional integration.
Jane Nalunga the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiation Institute (SEATINI) Uganda Country director said Ugandans should not have high expectations towards EPAs.
“Our standards still have issues. Our markets are within us. We do not need European market. It is like expecting chicken to give you milk,” said Nalunga.
She said that despite negotiating for the last 10 years many states had still failed to sign the EPAs. “What are we signing? Do we need to sign EPAs to get skills development,” she asked.
The EPAs are a key element of the Cotonou Agreement, the latest agreement in the history of ACP- EU Development Cooperation and were supposed to take effect as of 2008 but to-date the negotiations are not yet completed.
George Walusimbi Mpanga, a trade expert and Executive Director Uganda Coalition of service industry said if packaged well, EPAs can be of benefit to the EAC. “We have a fundamental agreement on EPAs, but it has taken so long to conclude it that by the time it is signed its benefits will be useless,” said Mpanga.
He pointed out that as privates sector; they don’t see benefits by signing the agreement.
“We don’t expect to sell more than in the EAC region because their offer is minimal. The market we are targeting is not in the EU,” he said.
He stressed the need to up our game on improving standards first. “If we can’t trade in Kenya, what makes us think that we shall sell in Europe?” he queried.
Ambassador Nathan Irumba Executive Director SEATINI said there are contentious issues in the agreement that will have serious implications on Uganda’s economy and people’s livelihoods. “What we have are not commitments but aspirations and we shall end up in disappointment,” he said.
Irumba said that with or without EPAs, Uganda will continue to get assistance from EU. He described EPAs as self -serving to the EU rather than EAC or Uganda.
Dr. David Kibikyo an Economics expert and don at Kampala International University said there is no point of looking for markets when we cannot supply. “We still have issues with quality. We can’t even meet the required quantities as well. We need to sort these issues first,” he said.
Prof. Mwambutsya Ndebesa a Makerere don said signing of the EPAS would narrow the space to trade investments.
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.