DAR ES SALAAM
Tanzania has said it will not sign an economic partnership agreement (EPA) between East Africa Community (EAC) and European Union (EU) following Brexit.
The announcement caused anguish and shock at the EAC headquarters in Arusha.
A number of officials at the Secretariat were apparently at a loss on Friday on learning of the country's U-turn as announced in Dar es Salaam by Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Aziz Mlima.
"Has the Tanzania government withdrawn?" inquired a surprised official who said if it was true, the move would be a setback to the negotiations which have been going on for years between EAC and EU.
On Friday, Dr Mlima told reporters in Dar es Salaam that Tanzania had decided to halt the signing because of “turmoil” that the EU is experiencing following Britain’s exit.
The agreement between the EU and EAC was scheduled to be signed on July 18.
Dr Mlima said signing the pact would risk exposing young EAC countries to harsh economic conditions given the prevailing conditions in Europe.
The official said Tanzania’s Parliament would first peruse and advise the government before committing to the deal.
“Our experts have established that the way it has been crafted, the EPA will not benefit local industries in East Africa. Instead it will lead to their destruction as developed countries are likely to dominate the market,” Dr Mlima said.
Dr Mlima's remarks echoed strong criticism of the pact by former president Mkapa who warned EAC not to rush to sign the pact because it was designed to kill the local manufacturing sector.
Mr Mkapa expressed his recent disapproval of the EPA when he officiated the Mwalimu Nyerere International Festival at University of Dar es Salaam late last month.
“I don’t understand how such a powerful trade bloc can have a free trade agreement with the developing economies of Africa. There is no way that our small economies can have free trade agreement with Europe,” emphasised Mr Mkapa.
Tanzanian intellectuals also joined the former president in denouncing the EU’s trade pacts.
The University of Dar es Salaam’s retired law Professor Issa Shivji had once warned East Africa leaders that the EPA would reinstate Africa’s colonial role as a raw materials supplier to European factories.
“EPAs are not good for us because they will destroy our industries., Prof Shivji argued adding that EPAs would simply allow European heavily subsidized manufacturers access the region’s market.
EAC Secretariat workers could not believe that Tanzania had pulled out of a deal whose negotiations it had participated in.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official said the move contradicted a ministerial meeting in Nairobi on June 30 in which all the five partner states agreed to sign the document on the sidelines of the UNCTAD conference.
The EAC secretary general Mr Mfumukeko could not be reached for comment as he is reported to be out of the country as was the director general of customs and trade Peter Kiguta.
The latter has been leading trade negotiations on the EPA with EU.
EAC spokesperson Owora Richard-Othieno said although each partner state in the community was to sign the EPA with EU individually, the EAC had undertaken negotiations as a bloc.
Reported by John Namkwahe (Dar) and Zephania Ubwani (Arusha).
(Editing by Joel Muinde)