Uganda has reversed its decision to delay the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union.
Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde said the government had made up its mind and was ready to sign the deal irrespective of whether all regional countries are on board.
On Thursday, Kenya and Rwanda Trade ministers signed the EPA pact in Brussels, Belgium, with the European Union, a deal the East African Community (EAC) Council of Ministers had recommended earlier this year.
Kenya was desperate to have the agreement signed to safeguard unlimited duty-free access for its exports to Europe after Tanzania and Uganda said the deal first signed in October 2014 needed to be renegotiated following Britain’s vote to leave the bloc.
Speaking on the sidelines of the seventh Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives sector review annual conference in Kampala on Tuesday, Ms Kyambadde said, “The EU is our major trading bloc and we are going ahead to sign the EPAs.”
Burundi has also shown a strong desire to sign the agreement in its current form, leaving Tanzania in its effort to seek further reassurance regarding the matter.
Tanzania’s refuses to sign the EPAs because it fears the possible repercussions of the deal on the growth of the emerging regional industries.
Without guarantees against the side effects, Tanzania says it is not prepared to commit itself into economic enslavement.
EPAs are trade and development agreements negotiated between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners engaged in regional economic integration processes.
The EU is Uganda’s second leading market for its exports.
Speaking at the conference, external trade assistant commissioner Emmanuel Mutahunga said: “We can’t afford to lose the EU market because it’s contributing a lot to our economy.”
He said Uganda's coffee exports to the EU are worth $252 million while flower exports to the region bring in $45 million.
Mr Mutahunga said a conclusive decision on the deal is expected to be discussed at the ongoing negotiations by the regional council of ministers, who will make final recommendations to the heads of state next week in Arusha, Tanzania. The EAC states are expected to sign the deal before this month ends.
If the EPA is not signed and ratified by all EAC partner states by September 30, Kenya, as the bloc’s only state that is not classified as a "least developed country", stands to lose its market to the EU, an outcome that would have a significant impact on its economy.
The rest of the members have alternative access to EU as they are all classified as least developed countries.
The Private Sector Foundation Uganda executive director Gideon Badagawa said Uganda’s decision to sign the EPAs has been long overdue.
“EPAs will build our capacities as far as infrastructures are concerned, which is an important gain,” Mr Badagawa said.
Additional reporting from The EastAfricanteam.