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Kenya’s quest to close an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union ahead of next year’s deadline has run into fresh head winds after a Tanzanian lodged a civil suit in the East African Court of Justice, seeking to stop it.
Castro Pius Shirima, a law lecturer at Iringa University, wants the regional court to stop the remaining signatories of the pact from penning the agreement that Kenya needs to protect a third of its export market. Kenya and Rwanda signed the contentious deal in September.
Mr Shirima argues in the case, which comes up for hearing next week, that the remaining members of the EAC Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan should be prevented from signing the EPA because of the many risks it poses to the region’s economy.
He further argues that “signing such an agreement by the second and third respondents (Kenya and Rwanda) has violated the letter and spirit of the EAC Treaty.”
“If (the signing of EPA is) not stayed, any further signature will allow ratification and regional application of the agreement, which will most likely displace EAC products from the market thereby undermining industrialisation policy and tariff regimes,” he says in the papers filed on October 31.
The Arusha-based EAC Secretariat confirmed that its top officials had been served with the court papers.
“Yes, there is case to that effect that is coming up. Once we have more information we’ll issue a statement,” a source at the EAC Secretariat said.
The case commences barely one month before the region’s leadership meets again in Arusha at the start of next year to decide the fate of the EPA — a deal that guarantees EAC member states quota-and-duty free access to the EU market.
The presidents met in September in the wake of Tanzania’s stiff opposition to the pact. It was during the meeting that the leaders decided to give technocrats more room for consultations on EPAs and to review their position in January.
Kenya has, however, since 2007 been pushing for the deal to be concluded with speed. Being the only developing state in EAC (the rest are classified as Least Developed Countries that enjoy duty-free trade with EU without reciprocating), Kenya has had to lobby its partners to endorse EPA because of the shared customs territory.
Observers are likely to interpret Mr Shirima’s suit as the latest attempt by Tanzania to throw a spanner in the works after Kenya backed by Rwanda – pulled off a surprise move to beat the psychological September 30 deadline that the EU Parliament had issued earlier.
The rushed signing of EPA helped to shield Kenya from an estimated Sh100 million-a-month tariff cost that the EU had threatened to impose from October 1.
Tanzania has long stated its opposition to the EPA. Former Tanzanian President William Mkapa has previously personified the country’s resistance to the trade deal.
Mr Mkapa maintains that the deal which he describes as a latter-day scramble for Africa would kill the region’s industrialisation dream.
Earlier in the year, Tanzania’s cabinet apparently took the cue when it, in a decision announced by its Foreign Affairs ministry, opted to pull out of a joint deal hammered by the bloc’s ministers to have the region sign EPAs collectively.