KENYA - An Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) meant to give preferential access to a range of Kenyan agricultural goods and services to the European market could be ratified before the end of next year.
Bernd Lange, the head of the European Union Parliament delegation attending the ongoing World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Nairobi, Thursday told Kenyan MPs and senators that the draft trade agreement was set to be ratified by next December.
“We import coffee, cut flowers, tea, some fish and vegetables. In EPAs, there are possibilities to discuss further trade arrangements. Time is limited for Kenya to December 2016 to ratify a trade pact. We want the EPAs text to be ready by January,” said Mr Lange.
A deadlock on the EPA negotiations could see Kenyan goods worth billions of shillings subjected to steep EU taxes, which would make them non-competitive and effectively lock them out of the European market.
At a meeting with joint committees on Finance, Trade and Commerce at the Senate chambers, Mr Lange said the EU and the East African Community (EAC) member States are working on ratification of EPAs.
“This is the most important step that will give market access for Kenyan and the east African region to the EU. The ratification of the EPAs deal will remove barriers that hinder Kenyan goods such as cut flower, tea and coffee to the EU market,” he said.
He told a joint Senate committee on Finance, Commerce and Budget, and National Assembly Finance, Planning and Trade team that the EU Parliament is ready to begin the ratification process once Kenya and the European Commission reach and sign an agreement.
“We hope that by December, the EU and EAC, and in particular Kenya will have ratified the trade deal so that we give Kenya and EU people a Christmas gift,” Mr Lange said. He led more than 20 EU leaders to the meeting.
Senator Billow Kerrow noted that Kenya faces stringent conditions on standards, making it hard to export its products.
“Just like in other goods, we have serious challenges in terms of non-tariff barriers that we get in services. Kenya is unable to export its skilled manpower.
“In the area of flower export to the EU, for instance, we are being subjected to very high standards making it impossible to access the EU market,” said Mr Kerrow.
In the fisheries sector, he said, Kenya faces up to 80 conditions on sanitary standards, making it impossible to export.
“We have signed a deal with US on Agoa but we don’t benefit because of these barriers, which make it difficult to access the market. Africa today needs to trade, not aid from developed world,” Mr Kerrow said.
The EU head denied accusations that the regional bloc and the developed world were not keen to strike a deal that would end subsidies in agriculture.
He said the stringent standards and other barriers apply to member states on a case by case basis, and not as a blanket rule.
EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan, who visited Kenya Coffee Research Institute in Embu on Thursday, said Kenya needs to improve the competitiveness of its agricultural exports through disease control and research to ease access for its commodities to the European market.
EU is the primary market for Kenyan coffee, with exports to the region having grown by 17 percent last year to Sh2.6 billion due to improved production and higher prices, earning local farmers Sh1.5 billion at an average price of Sh22, 300 per 50 kilogramme bag.