Tanzanians must be convinced of EAC benefits

September 29, 2015

The presidential election in the Tanzania next month could affect the Economic Partnership Agreement with European Union talks, but Tanzania’s bigger concern is convincing the people that the free trade deal is good for the country.Although some people within the country remained hopeful that EPA, a proposed free trade agreement involving five East African Community countries could be concluded, there are indications some issues remain unresolved.It has been widely reported that with the Tanzania now in presidential election mode, worries about whether Tanzanians would really benefit from the deal could delay or derail the EPA negotiations. “I shared with the Tanzanian Trade Representative our concerns and views about the EPA, but we are quite oblivious to their domestic politics,” said a senior member of EAC secretariat in Arusha, northern Tanzania.“Of bigger concern to Tanzania are challenges in terms of convincing Tanzanian people,” said the EAC trade expert in response to my request on whether the Tanzania presidential election could impact the talks.The last round of EPA ministerial talks fell just short of a deal but several of the ministers reportedly expressed confidence that a final agreement was within reach.

Bank of Tanzania as seen in this picture I took three years ago en-route from Kigamboni, Dar es Salaam
Bank of Tanzania as seen in this picture I took three years ago en-route from Kigamboni, Dar es Salaam

If concluded, the EPA would create a free trade agreement where East Africans will be able to sell their products duty free while EU products will have unparalleled access to the five countries market.Tanzania is facing issues on a few fronts, such as concerns by businesses, state-owned enterprises and on labour.“We updated fellow EAC countries on the situation on these issues and he in turn updated us on the overall situation of the EPA negotiations with the EU ,” said trade expert.There were still a handful of issues that had yet to be settled in the EPA talks and therefore its looking less likely the agreement will be signed in the next deadline.A top trade negotiator said that while the last meeting was productive, several ministers needed to consult with their governments and other stakeholders.“That kind of work is under way, so in the meantime we are working bilaterally with other East African countries, in small groups, and taking advantage of opportunities like this EAC meeting to further our discussions.“We are looking forward to continuing work on the remaining issues with Tanzania and other member states and we plan to bring this to a close as soon as possible,” he said.

Contador Harrison