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Kenya says ready to conclude talks on EPAs

by Chrispinus Omar

NAIROBI, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Thursday his government is willing to conclude talks on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions.

Speaking when he officially opened the 99th session of the ACP Council of Ministers and the 39th session of the joint ACP-EU Council of Ministers in Nairobi, Kenyatta joined the rest of the EPA configurations in calling for greater flexibility from EU on the outstanding issues.

"In our view, the approaching expiry of the market access deadline may not be the key issue with EPAs. What is of concern is how any new arrangement will guarantee market access in a sustainable and progressive manner," he said.

"Further, it should be clear that EPAs should serve as an instrument for promotion of regional, intra-regional and transcontinental integration," Kenyatta told the conference which is being attended by 100 ministers from ACP and EU.

The EPAs launched in Brussels in 2002 are aimed at enhancing sustainable growth, increasing production and supply capacities of the ACP countries, promoting structural processing and economic diversification of the ACP states while supporting regional integration.

Experts say the East African nation stands to benefit from foreign exchange earnings, employment opportunities and penetration to the European Union market with EPAs.

The country has enjoyed preferential access to the EU market for the last 38 years through four successive Lome Conventions signed between 1975-2000.

The intention is to reciprocate the trading terms that the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries have been enjoying since 1959.

But the negotiations have faced stiff competition from the civil society and Africa Caribbean and Pacific Countries (ACP's) trade experts because of the risk they pose to local enterprises.

As of 2013, the EU accounted for 17.2 percent of Kenya overall trade. EU is currently the second largest export market for Kenya as it absorbs close to 25 percent exports and 14 percent of imports.

Kenyatta said the EPAs have emerged as a critical factor in determining the future trade relations between the ACP and the EU.

"Many countries and regions of the ACP have approached the EPAs very cautiously. I personally see EPAs both as an opportunity for deeper cooperation despite the challenges posed by the market access resolution," he said.

The Kenyan leader said it was his desire that countries and regions should go for sustainable and optimal trade and development agreements that will help integrate ACP countries into the global economy as envisaged in the founding instruments of this partnership.

"The ACP-EU is one of the strongest and vital trans-regional partnerships of our time. The scope of cooperation and partnership amongst the countries of the ACP and the EU, separately and jointly, has evolved and grown over the years," he said.

"Today, we present to the global audience our overarching commitment to the joint resolve in addressing the challenges of poverty, sustainable development and the gradual integration of the ACP countries into the global economy."

Kenya is signatory to trade agreement between ACP group of states and the European Union.

The EAC region has a tangible opportunity to seize the advantages offered by the EPA and to maintain Duty Free Quota Free access for all Kenyan exports to the 500 million consumer EU market.

Kenya is currently engaging in the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations within the framework of the East African Community. The EU is the destination for 60 percent of exports from the African, Caribbean and Pacific region.

Kenyatta said member states have continued to benefit from development cooperation emanating from this partnership as envisaged in successive Lome Conventions and the Cotonou Partnership Agreements.

This partnership, Kenyatta said, has positively contributed to efforts by most of our countries to confront the challenges of globalization.

"It has deepened the north-south cooperation and strengthened efforts to promote bilateral, regional and transcontinental trade. It is through this collaboration and forethought that we will derive the much needed economic, social and cultural transformation of our people," he said.

Kenyatta called on the conference to address itself to the state of the partnership with a view to coming up with proposals that will strengthen ACP-EU engagement.

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