Nairobi, KENYA, 22 March 2012/ NS/ AA: The harsh reality of Kenyan horticulture exports attracting 16 percent duty in its main European market is drawing closer, as the window for negotiation between Europe and Kenya on new trade rules under Economic Partnership agreements arrangement slowly shuts.

The chairman of Committee on International Trade (INTA) of the European Parliament Vital Moreira yesterday said the EPA negotiations that have taken a decade must concluded this year.

"We can not negotiate forever and the status quo is not an option," said Moreira.

He said the EU commission hopes the negotiations with the EAC will be complete by the end of this year, although they have set the deadline on 31st December 2013 for all the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) to ratify the rules.

Moreira and a delegation of eight European parliament members completed a three day fact finding mission regarding the position of various interested parties in Kenya including the government, politicians, business people, trade unions and civil society representatives.

He said all except the civil society groups are ready to balance their interests with compromises for the negotiations to close on acceptable terms.

While the business community wants the deal concluded to end uncertainty, the government officials wants negotiations to continue to a logical conclusion while NGOs want most of the EPAs replaced with a more favourable trade regime. Moreira said Kenya will have to convince its partners in the East African Community to sign the EPAs.

The other four EAC member countries Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania are classified as Least Developed Countries which are allowed to sell goods in the EU duty and quota free without reciprocating, but have resolved to back Kenya's position to negotiate as a block although the EPAs do not affect them negatively. He confirmed that a legislative proposals to replace the blanket tariff preferences as well as the amendment of the Market Access Regulation withdrawing trade concessions from countries that negotiated but not yet ratified the agreements will be discussed in June.

The negotiations started in 2002 and were expected to be concluded to be concluded by 31 December 2007. Kenya argues that signing the agreements mean removal of existing market access barriers will make the country a supermarket for European goods that will eventually kill local manufacturing industries, a number of agricultural sub-sectors, and lock out most of horticultural exports from European markets. The EAC wants EU's Rules of origin threshold lowered and gradual process applied to until the region feels ready to to meet the requirements.

– By Solomon Kirimi, Nairobi Star