Tanzania said on Wednesday it would not sign a regional trade deal with the European Union due to come into effect by Oct. 1, and urged neighbouring countries to back a delay pending discussions on its effect on the region's manufacturing sector.
Kenya and Rwanda signed the deal earlier this month, but it needs approval from all members of the East African Community bloc - which also includes Burundi and Uganda - to take effect.
The trade deal with the European Union gives EAC member states duty- and quota-free access for their goods to the EU as long as they meet the set health and safety standards.
But Tanzania's Minister of Foreign Affairs Augustine Mahiga, describing the EU as an "industrial giant", said fledgling industries in his country would not be able to cope with zero-rated imports of European goods.
"Tanzania will not sign the economic partnership agreement (EPA) until several issues are addressed," Mahiga told journalists in Dar es Salaam.
EAC member states initialled an interim EPA deal in 2007 and another in 2014. Governments were given two years from the October 2014 agreement to ratify the deal in national parliaments.
South Sudan, which joined the bloc this year, was not part of initial negotiations of the deal, which started in 2002.
Kenya stands to lose the most without the deal signed, as other member states - including Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda - would still continue getting duty- and quota-free access under EU's Everything But Arms initiative since they are classified as Least Developed Countries.
"If the EPA is not signed and ratified by all EAC partner states by Sept. 30, 2016, Kenya stands to lose its market to the EU, having significant impact on her economy," Kenya's Trade and Industrialisation Ministry said in a statement late last week.
Governments in the region are also anxious to ensure that exports such as tea and fresh flowers, which are major sources of foreign exchange, are not hampered by any tariffs on trade with Britain after it leaves the European Union.
Mahiga said Tanzania would urge regional leaders on Thursday to delay the signing of the deal at an EAC heads of state summit in Dar es Salaam to give more time for the bloc to renegotiate the agreement with the EU.
The summit will be chaired by Tanzanian president John Magufuli and Rwandan president Paul Kagame and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni will attend, Tanzania's foreign affairs ministry said on Wednesday.
The presidents of Kenya and Burundi will send representatives to the meeting, Tanzanian officials said.