The negotiations, which were meant to be concluded in December 2007, have been increasingly complex and are now running into their tenth year.
“We have made progress and it has all along been a process. We are, on both sides, extremely keen to conclude as soon as possible. We’re actually already into overtime. It’s important to underscore that market excess in goods as such is no longer an issue between us,” Lodewijk Briet, head of the European Union delegation to Kenya, told CNBC Africa.
Once the agreement has been made, the European Union is expected to open its market fully for all East African products duty and quota free.
The East African community will also be given a grace period of roughly 20 years, by the end of which the region is expected to in turn open between 80 per cent and 83 per cent of its market to the European Union.
“The East African community has already agreed to fully liberalise worldwide its trade to the tune of 65 per cent. It’s only really an additional 18 per cent of tariff lines that are at stake. The remaining 17 per cent are considered excluded sensitive products. What we are talking about here are the ancillary issues, one of them is to a so-called most favoured nation clause,” Briet explained.
“It means if the European Union gives you specific advantages, you’re not supposed to turn around and grant a better deal on different issues, or the same issues, to another trading bloc that is of the same size as the European Union.”
Briet is however confident that the deal will be concluded before the life of the current European parliament, despite the number of number of stumbling blocks preventing the agreement’s conclusion. A show of flexibility on both sides is also necessary in finalising the dealings.
“As far as I have followed those discussions, I think the atmospherics are there, and the possibility is there. The next talks are going to take place in March, and we must succeed. I don’t think that the problem is one particular country dragging its feet,” said Briet.
“There’s still a lot of local, regional confidence building taking place. These negotiations have been so protracted that we have lost the momentum. There is to some extent a loss of trust, and I think that we have to regain that.”