Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli has asked the European Union (EU) to stop pushing African countries into signing the contentious Economic Partnerships Agreements (EPAs) saying this will undermine the weak economies of the continent’s states.
Speaking during a meeting with the European Commission in Brussels, Mr Atwoli said the EU had taken advantage of the West African states and their weak demands to force them to sign the agreements which he said would totally affect their economies in a negative way.
“EPAs in the current form will help maintain the current subsidised European agro-food dumping into African countries,” he said, citing the collapse of the textile industry in Kenya.
The Cotu boss observed that the only way out is for the EU to allow flexibility and ensure clear safeguards for economies of African states are adopted, pointing out that the EPAs in their current form are untenable and they will need unconditional and flexible changes to make them suitable to African states.
The Cotu boss was speaking during a meeting with the European Commission officials led by Montserrat Gaga De La Mata, the commission's Trade Affairs Officer on EPAs.
He singled out the East Africa Community, arguing that while it stands as the most food secure and sovereign region in Africa due to the traditional protection of its agro-food production, tariffs on agricultural imports are to be decreased over time.
Citing the example of the extile industry in Kenya, Mr Atwoli noted that the manufacturing sector was the hardest hit as a result of opening up of the local market where Kenya's infant factories were forced to compete with those in Europe which are heavily subsidised yet they are supposed to produce the same products.
Mr Atwoli called for an independent impact assessment to be prepared for each regional integration process taking into account gendered impact and called on the current EPAs negotiations to stop.
“Those signed should not enter into force and interim EPAs should be repealed and any future negotiations should respect African regional integration process,” he said.
He equally lashed out at the failure by African countries to build capacity to negotiate in order to inform their future negotiations with the European Union.
He added that the EU has taken advantage of the prevailing challenges in the negotiation capacity to push their agenda undeterred as those sent to engage the union lack basic negotiation skills to challenge the European powers.
He applauded the tough stand taken by EAC member states, particularly Tanzania, pointing out the exit of Britain from the EU raises further questions and demands on how the EPAs should be drafted.