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EAC Presidents Allow Individual States to Negotiate EU Trade Deal

At the just ended virtually-held 21st Heads of State Summit, the leaders agreed to let those that wish, to go on and engage the EU on how to move forward without the others, under the "Variable Geometry" principle. Under this, some countries in a bloc are allowed integrate at different levels and pace, depending on the situation in the respective country.
The leaders of the East African Community have given a go-ahead to partner states willing to be part of the Europe-EAC trade deal, known as the EU-EAC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

The EPA aims at enhancing trade between the two regions by way of removing quotas and tariffs on each other's exports. Kenya and Rwanda have been pushing the other countries, with Tanzania and Burundi refusing to sign on the deals, reasoning that it benefits the EU more than the EAC.  This, according to the countries, will see EU exports suffocate the local industry, while the EAC exports will meet competition from other countries like China in the European market.

Uganda has taken a middle ground, calling for the consensus of all EAC partner states for the good of integration. At the just ended virtually-held 21st Heads of State Summit, the leaders agreed to let those that wish, to go on and engage the EU on how to move forward without the others, under the "Variable Geometry" principle.

Under this, some countries in a bloc are allowed to integrate at different levels and pace, depending on the situation in the respective country. Kenya, which dominates the EAC exports to Europe will welcome this. It also comes at a time that the Summit selected Kenya to take over the EAC chairmanship from Rwanda, while another Kenyan, Dr Peter Mutuku Mathuki becomes the new EAC Secretary-General.

Mathuki, a former member of the EAC Legislation Assembly (EALA), is currently the Executive Director of the East African Business Council. He comes at the time that the bloc is facing unprecedented tests to regional trade. Rwanda maintains a closure of its border with Uganda for two years now, while Tanzania and Kenya trade wrangles have seen goods destroyed by either country after disagreements, as well as suspension of flights.

Uganda is perhaps the most affected with both Tanzania and Kenya frequently blocking her goods over claims of standards issues as well as market oversupply, among others.

The outgoing secretary-general Ambassador Liberate Mfymukeko from Burundi is blamed for being too soft as trade crises persisted. His tenure also saw his country's head of state stay away from EAC summits for two years, mainly after disagreements with neighbouring Rwanda.

Burundi was its first appearance at the summit in more than 2 years when new President Everiste Ndaishimye made his maiden attendance. He was also named the Rapporteur of the EAC and will be the next chairman after Uhuru Kenyatta's tenure ends.

The summit noted that the Democratic Republic of Congo had applied to join the EAC and the leaders directed the Council of Ministers to quickly undertake the verification mission under the EAC admission procedures, and report to the next summit.

DRC's admission will add 106 million people to the population of the EAC and expand the single market by another 80 billion dollars of GDP. The presidents also directed the Council to accelerate the integration of South Sudan and conclude the verification for Somalia's application.

Nestor Kayobera, the director of judicial services in Burundi was appointed President of the EA Court or justice, while Uganda's Geoffrey Kiryabwire is Vice President. Outgoing chairman Paul Kagame called for closer regional cooperation as the best way to overcome the economic impact of the Covid 19 on the economies.

On his part, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni said the integration will not be meaningful if it limits trade within the region, adding that despite the enormous resources, the people will remain poor it the countries remain disunited. He also warned that there is a continued threat to security in the region, citing the conflict in Mozambique.

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